TUSD strategy to close schools is a wise move

Our view: Board is moving carefully, using appropriate criteria in deciding
2012-12-02T00:00:00Z TUSD strategy to close schools is a wise move Arizona Daily Star
December 02, 2012 12:00 am

To solve its $17 million budget problem, the Tucson Unified School District could eliminate all central administration. No superintendent, no management to oversee the 50,000-student district at all. The idea is to keep the cuts as far away from classrooms as possible.

The Governing Board could decide that sports, clubs and other nonclassroom activities are no longer affordable. Stick to the core mission - teaching the 3 R's.

TUSD could get rid of half of the custodians. Make students help with the cleaning.

Do all of that, and here's the savings:

Administration, $6.4 million

Sports and clubs, $2.2 million

Janitors, $5.25 million

Total: $13.85 million - not enough to solve the problem.

Obviously, it's impossible to run a school district with zero administrators. And imagine how quickly students would flee to other districts if TUSD stopped offering any sports or after-school activities. Nor do we envision that students would be adept at waxing floors or changing out lights.

But these examples demonstrate the scope of TUSD's budget problem. Difficult choices must be made - which the school board clearly understands.

That's why it began a process months ago that featured focus groups and open houses to obtain employee and public input on many budget-balancing options, including the one that is the main focus now: closing schools.

The Governing Board has agreed to move ahead with public hearings this month on the possible closure of 14 schools.

Shutting a school is a drastic step, but it must be done. As the Star's Jamar Younger reports in today's pages, TUSD has 13,000 vacant seats. That's about the size of the entire Amphitheater district.

TUSD has schools such as Carson Middle School, which is operating at 55 percent of capacity, and Hohokam Middle School, at 42 percent of capacity.

The district cannot afford to operate and maintain so many underused buildings. It estimates it would save about $500,000 by closing an elementary school, $750,000 for a middle school and $1 million for a high school.

The board must act carefully to close schools, and from what we've seen so far, it is doing so. It has approved appropriate review criteria, such as schools with low academic performance, weak prospects for turning around enrollment and easy transfer of students to high-performing nearby schools.

That last point is critical. TUSD's enrollment has dropped by more than 13,000 since 2000, and most of those kids didn't leave Tucson. They moved to other districts and charter schools. TUSD must compete by devoting its limited dollars to producing high-academic achievement at fewer schools.

Arizona Daily Star

public hearings

The TUSD board has scheduled hearings on the possible school closings.

• Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. at the Catalina High School Auditorium, 3645 E. Pima St.

• Dec. 10 at 6 p.m., also at the Catalina auditorium.

• Final decisions could be made at a Dec. 20 board meeting.

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