Despite overwhelming voter approval last November, a ruling by Pinal County officials could reverse the outcome of a school district election.

The Pinal County Attorney in February released a legal opinion that, if allowed to stand, would reverse a unification measure passed by nearly 70 percent of voters in the Oracle Elementary School District.

The move to unify came at the prodding of state officials, who wanted to merge nearly 100 small school districts across the state as a way to cut administrative and other expenses. 

For Oracle, a school system with less than 400 students, unification would have entailed renaming the district from “elementary” to “unified” school district — a minor distinction, but one that would have cost the district nearly $500,000.

“I don’t know where we would have found the money,” said Todd Kissick, Oracle superintendent.

The district likely would have had to cut services or lay off workers to account for the added expenses.

As a unified school system, Oracle would change from a K-8 to a K-12 provider.

While the change would not have altered the district’s day-to-day operations, it would have left Oracle on the hook for the cost of educating students grades 9 through 12, even though it does not have its own high school.

About 200 high school kids who live within district boundaries attend schools in Amphitheater and San Manuel districts. The state reimburses Oracle for the costs of educating the students.

The state also reimburses the district for transportation-related expenses.

Unification would have eliminated state support on both fronts.

According to a Pinal County analysis of state law, unifications have to be passed by a majority of registered voters — not a simple majority of votes cast.

While 4,916 Oracle voters cast ballots in favor of the unification, the measure still fell 16 votes short of capturing a majority of registered voters.

County officials have forwarded their analysis to the Arizona Attorney General, who has 60 days to either agree or dispute Pinal’s finding.

If the attorney general does nothing, the county ruling would stand.

Voters also approved a 10-percent budget override for the school district last November. The result of that vote will remain unchanged.

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