For years, local school districts have made no secret of their efforts to lure students away from Tucson’s largest district. Now, it’s the Tucson Unified School District’s turn.

TUSD will be sending out letters and fliers to families in the Vail, Catalina Foothills and Tanque Verde school districts, touting Sabino High School.

The northeast-side school, long known for its academic excellence, was recently named one of four schools in Arizona to be designated a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon school.

TUSD is also planning to run bus routes into the neighboring districts. The estimated cost per route is $38,000, which includes bus drivers, fuel and monitors.

The number of routes cannot be determined until the district has an idea of how many students will enroll.

However, if TUSD is able to pick up 10 out-of-district students per route, it will cover the cost of the route and associated expenses, TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said.

At about $2,200, the cost for the mailers — which were also sent within the district — is relatively minimal.

Sanchez hopes the effort to recruit students to Sabino, which is considered a pilot program, will attract an additional 300 to 400 students. Sabino serves more than 1,000 students, and has consistently been an A-rated school.

The idea to actively recruit out-of-district students to Sabino, located at 5000 N. Bowes Road, was presented to Sanchez by parents and staff at the school.

“I was open to the idea, so I researched it and found how many kids are pulled away from us and the audacity of some districts parking their buses right in front of our schools,” Sanchez said. “If other districts have been very proud of taking students from TUSD, I think we have an opportunity to show we have good options for kids in our district, as well as kids out-of-district.”

Since taking over TUSD last summer, Sanchez has met with other area superintendents who have been upfront about their tactics.

“They’re kind and nice and have apologized to me, saying, ‘I’m sorry I had to take your students for us to survive, but it’s the state of education in Arizona,’” Sanchez said.

While Sanchez understands the nature of that beast, he said it doesn’t make sense to sit back and do nothing.

“The time of taking a defensive position and watching our students leave when we know we have quality schools and outstanding programs must come to an end,” he said.

TUSD has long struggled with declining student enrollment, losing about 1,500 students per year for the last several years.

At the beginning of the school year, TUSD reported that more than 900 students had left for charters and nearly 900 more switched to other public schools.

Sanchez is confident that this effort will be successful and is hopeful that it results in a model that can be used districtwide.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.