A Pinal County Superior Court Judge in May dismissed on a technicality a lawsuit that sought to invalidate petitions to place the consolidation of the Mammoth-San Manuel and Oracle school districts before voters Sept. 7.
Opponents of the consolidation were challenging the petitions, claiming about 40 percent of them were gathered before a political committee was formed, something that is required by state law. If the signatures were thrown out, there would not be enough to put the issue to a vote.
Judge Boyd Johnson dismissed the suit, saying plaintiffs Ellen Galloway and Margaret Fairbanks, who are both from Oracle, did not challenge the petitions within 10 days of their filing, as is required by state law.
Jack Assini, an Oracle attorney volunteering to help Galloway and Fairbanks, said the two women, without aid of a lawyer, initially filed a complaint with the court within the 10-day limit, but the judge rejected the filing, saying it was misfiled as written and better handled by the state Attorney General.
The women gained Assini's services, who redrafted the complaint and refiled it with the court, which then dismissed it because it was past the deadline. Assini said the women believed they were given an extension of the 10-day limit to refile. He said he has asked the judge to reconsider the ruling.
That effort has been joined by Jack Harmon, the superintendent of Pinal County schools, who is a defendant in the case. A hearing date for the reconsideration has not been set.
Subsequent to Johnson's dismissal, consolidation supporters gathered additional signatures and submitted them to Harmon as insurance in case the lawsuit is given new life by the judge.
Harmon said he is uncertain what to do about the additional signatures until the matter of the initial batch of signatures is resolved. He said he didn't know if the consolidation supporters could submit signatures in stages.
San Manuel District Superintendent Marilyn Semones, one of the leaders of the consolidation effort, said her group believes it has until June 30 to submit signatures for the Sept. 7 election.
She said the group had originally submitted the petitions for a May vote and were told by the Pinal County elections division the petitions needed to be submitted at least 70 days in advance. June 30 is 70 days prior to Sept. 7.
Voters in both districts must pass the consolidation issue in order for consolidation to occur. Therefore, supporters need to gather petition signatures in both districts to place it on both districts' ballot.
Supporters needed 187 signatures in the San Manuel district, and 507 in Oracle. They filed 332 signatures from San Manuel district residents and 672 from Oracle district residents.
If the signatures being challenged by Fairbanks and Galloway are thrown out, there will not be enough remaining from the initial batch of signatures to put the matter on either districts' ballot.
Which is why supporters gathered nearly 300 additional signatures, about 200 in San Manuel and just under 100 in Oracle, Semones said.
The consolidation issue has been divisive in the rural communities nestled in the northern foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
The consolidation issue appears to have large support in the communities of Mammoth and San Manuel as a way to make scarce dollars stretch farther by cutting the costs of operating two district offices.
Many Oracle residents oppose consolidation, including everyone on the school governing board and superintendent John Clark.
Clark has likened the consolidation effort to a "hostile takeover."
The issue is likely to be won or lost in the burgeoning retirement community of Saddle-Brooke, which lies just to west of Oracle. Three-fourths of the Oracle School District is composed of people living in the age-restricted community, which houses no children who attend Oracle schools.