The TUSD Governing Board is hosting two public hearings to discuss the proposed closure of 14 schools as a group of parents and residents has banded together to try to save three west-side campuses.
The meetings, scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. and Monday at 6 p.m., will be held at Catalina Magnet High School, 3645 E. Pima St. The board is required by law to hold the hearings before finalizing the closing of any schools.
The final vote is scheduled for Dec. 20.
Closures have been initiated at: Brichta, Corbett, Cragin, Lyons, Manzo, Menlo Park, Schumaker and Sewell elementary schools; Carson, Hohokam, Maxwell and Wakefield middle schools; Fort Lowell/Townsend K-8; and Howenstine High School.
Should the board approve any closures, changes would not take effect until the 2013-2014 school year.
The closures are part of the district's effort to bridge a $17 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year. However, other measures will need to be undertaken for the district to operate in the black.
The deficit is said to be due to a continuous decline in enrollment, reductions in state funding, increasing expenses in building maintenance and utilities, and the end of federal stimulus money.
Though the closure process is unpleasant, it has managed to unify three of the four west-side schools in their fight to stay open.
Today, local leaders and community members with ties to Brichta, Manzo and Menlo Park elementary schools will gather at 12:30 p.m. at Joaquin Murrieta Park, 1400 N. Silverbell Road, to address their concerns.
Maxwell Middle School is the fourth west-side site. The group speaking today is focusing its efforts on the three elementary schools.
"Essentially, the board has voted to close down all three west-side schools without considering the devastating consequences," said Sal Baldenegro Jr., who is organizing the event with activist Miguel Ortega.
Some of the consequences include fewer school options for nearby residents and the challenge for parents of transporting their children to a site that is farther away.
Added Tucson City Councilwoman Regina Romero in a letter to TUSD: "The disproportionate emphasis on west-side closures is alarming. The elimination of these schools will severely limit public education alternatives and force west-side families away from TUSD."
Should the board approve closing the west-side schools, these plans are in place:
• Brichta and Menlo Park students would attend a new K-8 school that would be opened at the Maxwell site, or Tolson Elementary School. Both receiving schools are two to three miles from the home campuses.
• Manzo students would be assigned to Tully Elementary - about a mile away.
• Maxwell students would be assigned to Mansfeld Middle, Robins K-8, Safford Middle or Valencia Middle schools. The distance from Maxwell to any of the four campuses ranges from four to 10 miles.
Baldenegro acknowledges there is a financial hurdle to overcome but feels it is unfair to target so many schools in such a small area.
Rather than having the board decide the schools' fate, the group would prefer to have the community determine the best course of action. "Bring these people to the table," Baldenegro said. "We'll talk about solutions."
The same argument was made in 2010, when the board approved the closures of nine campuses, mostly on Tucson's east side.
Superintendent John Pedicone said it's not a matter of unfairly targeting any particular area or demographic.
"The whole foundation for why we looked at the east side is because there's an absence of enrollment more than in other areas throughout the district," Pedicone said. "The same is true of the west side - while there is some growth that we can predict just south of there, there's no such projections for that west-side area.
"So either we address it because that's where there is an obvious need or we don't, but no one believes this is a positive thing for any neighborhood unless you can see that by doing this we can provide more for those families."
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175.