After more than four decades of serving students and families, Thornydale Elementary is preparing to close it doors for good at the end of the school year.
The decision Thursday to close the Marana school, at 7651 N. Oldfather Road, has left the families of more than 300 students in limbo.
Shauna Quintero, whose three children attend Thornydale, said she’s considering moving her kids to a different district after the disappointing decision to close the school.
“They built a case of what they planned to do with the building, and that’s turned it into something else with no regard for who was there and the kind of family and community that’s been built over 40 years there,” Quintero said. “You have a school that is the definition of what people say they want, which is a community school where everybody knows each other, everybody lives in walking distance, and you have that ideal here and you’re wiping it out because of money.”
That plan for the school includes housing four Marana Unified School District departments there, including the Marianne Valdez Play and Learn Program, community preschool programs, the health services department and the student services department.
The move will then make room for the Marana Career and Technical High School at the district campus, 11279 W. Grier Road, to “double in size,” the district says.
The district based its decision to recommend closure to the Governing Board on numbers.
The northwest-side school has seen enrollment decline over the years, from 700 students in 1994 to 306 this year. Enrollment was expected to continue to fall over the next six years as the neighborhood surrounding the campus ages and more families choose charter schools for their children over traditional public schools.
“Being the stewards of the district taxpayers’ money and considering the additional benefits that would be gained by moving the other departments down into the Thornydale campus, even though it was a very difficult decision, a very painful decision, I think it was the right decision,” said Tom Carlson, president of the Marana Governing Board.
Operating the under-enrolled school is costing the district around $6,500 for each Thornydale student, while the average MUSD elementary student costs around $4,700.
“We don’t have a budget that can sustain that on an ongoing basis,” Carlson said, adding that nothing had changed regarding enrollment since April’s meeting.
Carlson noted that 76 homes were sold in the area in the last year and only four students came of it.
“So there’s not a sustainable path of growth for that particular area,” Carlson said.
Governing Board Member Dan Post, however, disagreed, casting the only vote against the closure.
Post, whose two children once attended Thornydale, said the school should remain open, although he acknowledged a case was made to close it.
“It seems to be the practical thing to do but in my opinion it is not the right thing to do,” Post said in front of a nearly packed room at the Marana Municipal Complex.
For those who choose to stay in district, the Governing Board has designated Quail Run and Butterfield elementary schools to take on the displaced students, though parents can choose to open-enroll at another campus.
The district says 176 students would go to Butterfield Elementary and another 29 would attend Quail Run Elementary. The move would boost enrollment at the two schools, where both were operating under 70 percent capacity in 2017, according to Arizona Daily Star archives.
The transition would be done without the need to add bus routes to transport students, district officials said at the meeting.
Officials also anticipate Thornydale teachers, staff workers and administrators will continue to have positions within the district.
For Thornydale parent Nicole Pogue, something should’ve been done earlier.
“If it was seen our enrollment was dropping over years and years and it was never addressed, I feel like it’s now the Marana school board’s responsibility to see if something works to flip that around,” said Pogue.
On Friday, a letter about the closure decision was sent to all Thornydale parents from Doug Wilson, the district’s superintendent.
“I recognize that this decision will impact the students and staff at Thornydale in many ways. No words that I put on this paper today will take the hurt away for you. The commitment we make is to ensure that your students will be well taken care of at their next school,” Wilson said.