Sept. 15, 2004 - Ellen Galloway spent the morning of Sept. 8 taking down campaign signs in the communities of SaddleBrooke and Eagle Crest that urged residents to vote against the consolidation of two nearby rural school districts.
A little hoarse, partly from celebration and partly from sheer exhaustion, Galloway reflected on the road that led those opposed to the consolidation of the Mammoth-San Manuel Unified and Oracle Elementary School districts to prevail at the polls Sept. 7.
She and the members of the Oracle Guard had fought a long battle that began just days before Thanksgiving 2003 and did not end until voters took their side and voted down a proposed consolidation.
"When we jumped into the fray, we had no idea how long this was going to be," she said. Galloway led a group of Oracle residents and parents, calling themselves the Oracle Guard, who first tried to convince the leaders of Mammoth-San Manuel that joining districts was not desired by residents through a direct plea, before gathering petitions to stop the ballot issue that eventually led to a legal battle to halt the consolidation effort in Pinal County Superior Court.
In August, the court decided to let the vote go ahead.
"My first reaction is to say a great 'thank you' to everyone in the school district for coming out and showing their support," Galloway said, the day after the primary.
It is time now to refocus her energy, she said. She, and other parents who actively opposed the consolidation, have spent months working on the campaign, and are eager to return to their roles as classroom volunteers.
The consolidation was voted down overwhelmingly in Oracle and SaddleBrooke. Of 2,863 voting in SaddleBrooke, 2,323 residents, or 81 percent, voted no. In Oracle, of 1,038 voting, 928 or, 84 percent, said no.
In Mammoth and San Manuel, however, the issue was approved with 812 of 1,127, or 72 percent, voting in favor of consolidation. The issue needed to pass in both special school districts in order to be approved.
Oracle Superintendent John Clark said now that the voting is over, he wants to put the whole issue to rest.
"It's a relief," he said. "There are too many other positive things going on. We're building toward the future."
He said the district is now looking forward to positive growth and hopes to be able to build new schools to accommodate that.
He was impressed by the high voter turnout at a primary election, saying that it goes to show, when people care about the issues, they show up to have their say.
But despite the positive outcomes, he said the issue was divisive and he is glad it is over.
"I'm sorry this whole consolidation issue had to go the way it did," he said.
Mammoth-San Manuel Superintendent Marilyn Semones did not return phone calls seeking comment about the consolidation issue outcome.
Boyd Bosma, a SaddleBrooke resident and husband of Oracle governing board member Madeline Bosma, was one of the loudest voices against consolidation since the issue was first raised in November 2003.
"We're ecstatic today," Bosma said the day following the primary. "It is a great victory. We did much better than we thought."
He said although a potential increase in taxes was a central issue for SaddleBrooke, the same voters who objected to the consolidation voted for a tax increase for the Golder Ranch Fire Department, which won its bond increase with 85 percent of the vote. He said this illustrates that many SaddleBrooke residents, though mostly retired and without children in school, were thinking of what was best for the students. He said SaddleBrooke voters are not opposed to paying more for education, as evidenced by the May passage of a budget override.
"Somehow we got the word out. Whether it was taxes or the possible harm to kids, I don't know," Bosma said.
The next step, he said, is reconciliation. Bosma has suggested that not only Semones, but also the governing board members, resign their posts, for allowing a "hostile" situation to be created during the course of the issue.
"It will take a long time to pick up the pieces from this," Bosma said. "It was really dirty, ugly all the way."
Galloway said while there certainly has been animosity created by the issue, it is directed more at the leadership of the district and not at the people in the community. She said she has never held it against the residents who supported a consolidation, although at times, there was tension between the two communities.