Six Tucson Unified schools will lose their magnet status next school year, putting about $3 million in desegregation funding in jeopardy.
The magnet label extends schools’ enrollment boundaries beyond their neighborhoods and guarantees desegregation funding to help achieve racial integration. The funding enables specialty programs, such as communications and fine arts.
The schools losing their status are: Ochoa Elementary, Robison Elementary, Safford K-6, Utterback 6-7, and Cholla and Pueblo high schools.
The judge in the decades-old desegregation case against TUSD has issued an order siding with the special master, who recommended in November that they lose their status because they did not meet diversity goals prescribed by the court in January 2015.
The goal was for each school not to have more than 70 percent of its entry grade — for example, kindergarten for elementary schools and ninth grade for high schools — be of one ethnicity.
“The withdrawal of magnet status from these six schools cannot surprise any party or the community,” U.S. District Judge David Bury wrote in his order. It is “undisputed” that they continue to not meet integration goals, despite having been given an additional year.
The district must now submit a post-magnet transition plan for each of the six schools to the court for review in about two weeks.
TUSD and the Latino plaintiffs in the desegregation court case both asked for more time for those schools to achieve their goals, but Bury wrote there’s no proof that more time would lead to improvement.
“Even though we got close at some of the schools, we did anticipate that the judge would rule in that direction,” said H.T. Sanchez, TUSD superintendent. For instance, Ochoa Elementary was just three students from meeting its diversity goal.
One of the biggest changes will be that the magnet schools, which could recruit from anywhere in the TUSD boundary, would transition into neighborhood schools, he said. There will still be open enrollment.
In terms of desegregation funding, Sanchez said the magnet label ensured the six schools got the desegregation funding necessary for their specialty programming. Now the schools have to tie what they are requesting to the unitary status plan with specific goals and costs, and seek court approval.
“The schools aren’t closing,” he said. “People aren’t being laid off. Kids can still go there.”
Sylvia Campoy, a representative of the Latino plaintiffs in the desegregation lawsuit, said the plaintiffs are “extremely disappointed” the six schools would be losing their magnet status. “It’s just disheartening that the district did not do what was ordered by the court in order to maintain the magnet status for all of the magnet schools.”
Campoy called the magnet withdrawals a “black eye” for the district, saying the district knew what had to be done to maintain the labels but failed to do so.
Desegregation funding may not take an immediate hit, but should the district not be able to come up with a sustainable transition plan, it can be affected further down the road, she said. “It will be important to see what the district proposes for each of the schools which have lost their magnet status through their submittal of transition plans.”