The Tucson Unified School District will spend more than $1.3 million to renovate two closed elementary schools to use as low-cost child-care centers for employees.
Schumaker Elementary on the east side and Brichta Elementary on the west side will house the Infant and Early Learning centers, which will serve TUSD employees with children ages birth to five.
The prices offered to district employees — $445 a month for infants and toddlers, $395 a month for 2-year-olds, and $350 a month for children ages 3 to 5 — are a fraction of the price that many private for-profit centers charge.
While the district is working to keep costs low, the expectation is that quality of education provided will be high, with a solid curriculum in place to prepare children for kindergarten, said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez.
Construction costs, which will be covered by desegregation funds, are considered a one-time investment. After that, it is expected that the centers will pay for themselves.
Sanchez said drawing from the desegregation funds, which are earmarked to bring racial balance to TUSD schools, makes sense when one considers the child-care venture as a recruitment and retention tool for teachers.
“Our interest isn’t in competing with the market,” Sanchez said. “Our interest is in taking care of our team members and finding ways to get people to want to stay in the district with things beyond a good working environment and working with the children.
“This is a nonmonetary retention and recruitment tool that serves multiple ends … and setting us above other districts and what we can offer as a benefit to employees.”
A local union representing some of TUSD’s employees applauded the effort.
“We’re always looking for savings for our employees, especially when TUSD hasn’t given any significant raises in quite some time,” said Lalo Macias, deputy administrator of AFSCME Local 449. The union represents transportation employees, groundsworkers, custodians, mechanics and maintenance workers. “As a father of four, I know child care can get very expensive, so a savings like this is always a plus.”
As of Tuesday night, 60 staff members had already responded to the fee schedule sent out by Sanchez just days earlier. The centers are expected to open in time for the new school year.
While a fee structure has been set up for TUSD partners, employees’ relatives and the public, for now, Sanchez said the program will only be extended to current employees.
“This is about our TUSD team members first,” said Sanchez, who voiced concerns about the district overextending itself. “We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. We want to make sure these sites are successful, they’re operating in the black, they’re a benefit to our employees, and make sure that they’re quality, before we get beyond our ability.”
A successful launch will help determine if TUSD will open a center to serve the community. Those prices would be higher than what is paid by TUSD employees.
Yvonne Merrill, who has lived in the Brichta neighborhood since 1978, is glad the campus will be resurrected for educational purposes.
The Brichta Neighborhood Association president said she and fellow residents have been concerned about the fate of the west-side school, near West Speedway and North Silverbell Road. She said about four break-ins have been reported to police.
“We don’t want it to become a site for urban deterioration,” Merrill said.
Schumaker Elementary is near East Fifth Street and North Pantano Road.
While Merrill and other residents have attempted to work with the district to keep the school viable, she is disturbed that the neighborhood association wasn’t made aware of the final decision on how the site would be used.
Nonetheless, the decision to move forward is preferable to leaving it vacant, Merrill said. She also said she would like to see TUSD open Brichta to neighborhood families.
“Many of the families here selected this neighborhood because it is centrally located and situated near a public park and the school,” Merrill said. “It was an ideal place to raise families. Now we can’t attract new families because no one wants to live near a derelict school.”