Mohave County
May 2024
Volume 24 Issue 3

Proposed bill would consolidate control of Mohave County public schools

General, Journal, March 2024 | 0 comments

March 2024

MOHAVE COUNTY – A controversial bill proposed by two Mohave County legislators would implement a pilot program consolidating control of the county’s public school districts under a single elected official.
House Bill 2717, sponsored by State Reps. John Gillette (R-Kingman) and Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City), would transfer many powers held by local school boards to the Mohave County School Superintendent’s office for a 5-year pilot program starting in 2025. The bill would also implement a similar consolidated administration pilot program in neighboring La Paz County.

Supporters say the measure aims to cut costs and improve efficiency by eliminating duplication of administrative and oversight roles across the county’s 13 public school districts. But opponents argue it would undercut local control and oversight.

Bullhead City School District Superintendent Carolyn Stewart recently alerted the district’s governing board about the proposal. The board responded by authorizing a letter opposing the bill, which would impact not only Bullhead City but also districts in Colorado City, Lake Havasu City, Kingman and elsewhere.

In a workshop before its regular meeting last week, the Bullhead City board voiced concerns that the bill would turn the operation of local public education into a political office. Members emphasized the importance of preserving local control over schools.

Under the pilot program, a single county school superintendent would take over many duties currently held by local district governing boards. These include district budgeting and finances, hiring of personnel, curriculum choices and pupil transportation. The county superintendent would have authority over all school district revenues, with ability to allocate up to 10% for administrative costs.
Supporters say consolidating these functions under one office would increase efficiency and free up resources to boost teacher pay. But the transfer of power away from community school boards troubles critics.

Opponents also question the logistics of managing a county as vast as Mohave. At 13,000 square miles, it is larger than nine U.S. states. Districts span from remote northern communities like Littlefield to Lake Havasu City near the border with California and Arizona. School officials warn that an appointed bureaucrat hundreds of miles away cannot adequately oversee diverse local needs.

Some local superintendents believe the added bureaucracy would actually raise administrative costs. For example, individual districts would still need personnel to handle day-to-day operations like IT, facilities and transportation. Experts say the county would have to hire more staff to take on major new responsibilities.

Small rural districts with limited resources worry they will lose their voice under a centralized regime. Larger districts fear a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot meet their unique needs. Parents and local leaders value community-driven schools tailored to local values and students.

Gillette has argued the bill could boost teacher wages by freeing up money spent on administrative duplication. But some local officials counter that giving control to an appointed bureaucrat would not serve community interests. They contend only elected boards are truly accountable to voters.

Despite skepticism in Mohave and La Paz counties, Gillette believes the pilot program will prove effective. “There’s no argument that what we’re doing is not working,” he said in promoting the bill. “My goal is not to defund the school, it’s not to lower administrative salaries. My goal is to compile them into one group so we lower that group of people in numbers.”

He argues consolidated administration and curriculum development at the county level will improve efficiency, allowing for higher teacher wages and better student outcomes.

But local districts seem poised to oppose any shift away from community-based leadership. School officials in both La Paz and Mohave counties have criticized the lack of local input into the proposal. They argue major changes with profound impact should involve substantial feedback from affected districts.

While the legislation focuses on administrative consolidation, some worry it could lead to more centralized control over curriculum and educational programs. The bill allows districts to use alternative curricula at their own expense, but some fear this could put locally-developed courses at a disadvantage.
Arizona schools get over half the state’s budget, receiving over $11 billion last year. But some remote rural schools still face funding challenges. They worry administrative costs diverted to the county superintendent’s office will shortchange local needs.

Representative Leo Biasiucci argues the bill responds to inefficiencies in the current education system. “Over half of the state budget goes to education, so we should never have a teacher walk away because of the money,” he said. “A seasoned teacher would make more as a manager at Golden Corral than as a school teacher.”

But district leaders dispute claims that administrative consolidation will benefit faculty, students or communities. “This bill will not save money,” said Parker Unified School District Superintendent Brad Sale. He argues it fails to account for crucial staff still needed at the local level.

Parker and other districts employ specialists in technology, facilities management, transportation, curriculum development and more. Sale contends administrative costs would rise under the legislation, not fall as sponsors promise.

Some Mohave County parents also have doubts. “I don’t see how one person can effectively manage an area this large,” said Michelle Thompson, who has two children in Kingman schools. “Different communities should have a say in their schools.”

Kingman Unified School District teacher Stacy James agrees. “Our board knows the needs of our students and teachers. Education should be locally driven, not a one size fits all model.”

But Gillette believes many concerns are overblown. He says districts will maintain control over key functions like hiring principals and teachers. The goal is consolidating common administrative tasks better handled at the county level. “That should be the function of the government, not teachers, not principals, not school administrators,” he argues.

Still, unease persists in many Mohave County communities over surrendering authority to an appointee in faraway Kingman.

Lake Havasu School Board member Lisa Roman summed up local skepticism. “It would be foolish to abdicate our local-level decision-making to big government,” she said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”
As debate continues, some see compromise possible. Bullhead City’s Carolyn Stewart suggested the county could provide support services without taking over control. For example, the county superintendent could offer accounting, HR and other assistance to strapped rural districts lacking resources. She believes such partnerships can achieve efficiencies without the wholesale transfer of governance.

For now, House Bill 2717 remains pending in legislative committees. Sponsors will need to ease local concerns to build support for even a limited pilot program. District leaders like Stewart say meaningful reform requires close consultation with affected schools and communities.
As Arizona continues wrestling with education funding challenges, Mohave County will be one to watch. Lessons from its debates over control of schools could shape reform efforts statewide.

Jeremy Webb

Based in Mohave Valley, Arizona, Jeremy Webb is a dedicated website designer and developer with a keen eye for detail. Transitioning from a background in retail sporting goods management, he now crafts digital spaces that resonate with audiences. Beyond the screen, Jeremy is a passionate writer, delving into topics ranging from business innovations and Arizona’s unique landscapes to the latest tech trends and compelling local narratives. Visit his website at JeremyWebb.Dev

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