TUCSON UNIFIED DECIDES SCHOOLS' FATES

TUSD to close 11 schools to chip away at $17 million shortfall

2012-12-21T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:46:43Z TUSD to close 11 schools to chip away at $17 million shortfallAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 21, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The TUSD Governing Board approved closing 11 schools for the upcoming school year, but saved three others from being shuttered.

The closures are part of an effort to bridge a $17 million budget shortfall.

The votes Thursday night to close schools were met with tears and emotional pleas from students, parents and other community members who urged the board to reconsider during a four-hour special meeting held at Catalina Magnet High School.

The schools that will be closed are: Brichta Elementary, Carson Middle, Corbett Elementary, Fort Lowell/Townsend K-8, Hohokam Middle, Howenstine High Magnet, Lyons Elementary, Maxwell Middle, Menlo Park Elementary, Schumaker Elementary and Wakefield Middle.

The three schools spared, all elementaries, are:

• Sewell: The highest achieving school on the potential closure list, receiving a grade of B from the Arizona Department of Education.

• Manzo: The board expressed support for turning it into a district-run charter school. That decision will be made by the newly elected governing board after it is seated in January.

• Cragin: The "C" school has shown signs of academic improvement under new leadership in a short period.

Some of the criteria used to identify schools for possible closure included: high cost savings from the closure, low academic performance, lack of success in attracting families, weak prospects for turnaround in enrollment and academic performance, and likelihood of reducing or at least not exacerbating ethnic imbalances within schools.

"It's difficult to be here tonight," said a tearful Kerry Hodgkinson, a Brichta Elementary parent who has previously called for cuts to central administration before school closures occur. "We've been here with our signs and our shirts. We hope you've listened to us."

A savings of about $4 million is expected to be derived from the closures, leaving the district to consider other measures - such as program and staff reductions, central office and administration reductions, salary/benefit adjustments and class size changes - to operate in the black.

Had all 14 of the campuses on the list been approved for closure, the savings would have been about $5 million per year.

Despite the savings achieved, there is a cost associated with closing the campuses of about $100,000 per site. That figure covers moving expenses, renovations to receiving schools, and securing sites to prevent them from falling into disrepair.

Though the closures are difficult, TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone has said they are necessary. Tucson Unified, which has about 100 schools, has 13,000 empty seats throughout the district - the equivalent of 26 empty elementary schools.

"Closing schools will build a stronger foundation for success," Pedicone said. "That may seem counterintuitive when it's your school that may be affected, but not closing schools means more and deeper cuts to programs, services and operations that take away from student support," he said.

The final decision to close the schools comes after months of discussions, focus groups, town halls, surveys and public hearings on the matter.

More than 100 campus consolidation options were developed, with 18 possible closure scenarios being recommended to the board. In the end, the board chose to consider only 14 of those scenarios.

Governing Board member Michael Hicks abstained from voting on any of the closures Thursday, saying that he agrees the schools need to be closed but that he was disappointed with the process.

"We need to focus on what TUSD can control," Hicks said in a written statement. "I believe that if academic performance improves, we will have addressed many of our issues with declining enrollment within the district."

Fellow board member Adelita Grijalva supported a number of the closures, but first apologized to the community for the emotional toll the process has taken.

"We're faced with a real crisis here," she said. "My heart really goes out to every person that has been hurt by this."

Grijalva went on to say that the community's voice has been heard and reassured the public that there would be cuts to central administration.

As grueling as the process was to have their children's school up for closure, Sewell parents Jihane Rohrbacker and Lisa Capron said they were comforted by how the neighborhood came together to support the school.

"It is a community school; we have support from businesses, churches, neighbors and they all have rallied around us," an emotional Rohrbacker said.

"They are going to help us do what we need to do to stay open, increase enrollment and raise funds."

In the coming months, TUSD will iron out the details associated with the closures to include boundary changes, construction projects, budget and teacher allocations, and transportation routes.

On StarNet: For the latest TUSD and education-related news, go to azstarnet.com/education

Did you know?

In 2010, TUSD closed nine schools, four of which remain vacant today. The cost to maintain the sites is roughly $50,000 each per year.

11

schools will close

Including one high, four middle, one K-8 and five elementary schools.

3

Schools are spared

All are elementary schools; one of them may become a charter school.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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