TUSD finalizes list of possible closures

Total of 14 schools set; students, parents make emotional pleas to board
2012-11-28T00:00:00Z 2012-11-28T17:05:18Z TUSD finalizes list of possible closuresJamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board voted late Tuesday to move forward with closing six more schools.

They are Wakefield and Maxwell middle schools; and Brichta, Menlo Park, Manzo and Cragin elementary schools.

Wakefield - along with Santa Rita High, which survived - were last-minute additions to the list of potential closures.

Although slated for closure, Maxwell Middle School at 2802 W. Anklam could reopen later as a K-8 school. If so, it would receive the students from Brichta and Menlo Park if they close as planned.

The proposed closures come on top of eight the board decided on last week: Sewell, Corbett, Lyons, Howenstine, Fort Lowell/Townsend, Schumaker, Carson and Hohokam.

None of the 14 proposed closures is final; public hearings will be held Dec. 8 and 10 before final votes are taken on Dec. 20.

The district is trying to save money to begin to offset a $17 million budget deficit expected next year.

In all, 18 schools were considered for closure. Among those, the only schools spared were Warren and Hollinger elementaries; Pueblo Gardens Pre-K to 8; and Santa Rita High.

Board member Adelita Grijalva was concerned about a possible dearth of schools on the west side with the proposed closures of Brichta, Menlo Park and Manzo.

"We're giving very few options to families on the west side," Grijalva said. "I would urge board members to seriously consider the impact on the neighborhood."

Board member Mark Stegeman said he wanted the board to consider reopening Manzo as a district-run charter school if it closes.

"Manzo has a lot of assets and community support," Stegeman said.

The board engaged in a long conversation regarding Santa Rita High School, with some members not wanting to close any east-side schools.

"We're destroying that whole area there," said board member Michael Hicks. "When we close more schools on the east side, we're taking about a spiral downhill."

Santa Rita High School and Wakefield Middle School were added to the list as additional options, said district planner Bryant Nodine.

Wakefield was submitted as an alternative to Hollinger Elementary due to the fact that Hollinger is a bigger building with more capacity for students and could be a school that receives students, Nodine said.

Santa Rita was originally considered for closure in the district's focus groups and met the district's criteria for closure, notably in academics, size and the ethnicity of its students, Nodine said last night.

Last week, the district submitted a list of 15 schools, which would save the district approximately $6.5 million per year. That would get the district only partway to dealing with the shortfall.

This week's six-hour meeting was much more raucous than last Tuesday's, with hundreds of parents, teachers, students and others packing the Catalina High Magnet School, holding signs and chanting on behalf of their schools.

Hollinger's student body president spoke to the board first in English, then in Spanish, saying he is enrolled in the dual-language gifted program at the school - a program that other speakers also praised as an asset. Hollinger is an excellent school, said the student, who wants to be a scientist.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., also supports keeping Hollinger open, said a representative of his office who spoke.

Pueblo Gardens supporters submitted more than 100 letters, said TUSD board President Miguel Cuevas. Closing the school would be like breaking up a family, those supporters said.

Students from Fort Lowell/Townsend said their school has improved in grades and attendance. A lot more kids are smiling this year at school, they said. A Fort Lowell/Townsend parent said that although the school is not graded as an A school, every student is A-plus. That school's tiger mascot, holding an "endangered" sign, was also up at the podium, standing behind the parent who spoke.

Students from Lyons also packed the meeting. A parent representing Lyons told the board: "You shut the school down, you shut the neighborhood down."

Local business leaders also spoke, encouraging TUSD to make tough decisions.

THE STORY SO FAR

The TUSD Governing Board voted Nov. 20 to hold public hearings on the possible closure of eight schools: Sewell, Corbett, Lyons, Howenstine, Fort Lowell/Townsend, Schumaker, Carson and Hohokam.

Sewell, Corbett, Lyons and Schumaker are elementary schools; Fort Lowell/Townsend is a K-8 school; Carson and Hohokam are middle schools, and Howenstine is a magnet high school.

The board set public hearings on the potential closures for Dec. 8 and Dec. 10, before final votes are taken on closures.

The board didn't vote Nov. 20 on the other seven schools also included on a list that TUSD released last week of those to be considered for possible closure; those were considered at last night's follow-up meeting.

Those schools were: Hollinger, Cragin, Brichta, Menlo Park, Warren and Manzo elementary schools, and Pueblo Gardens Pre-K through 8 school.

In addition, three other schools were added last night to the list of schools considered for closure: Wakefield and Maxwell middle schools and Santa Rita High.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger Arizona Daily Star

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