Every school year, students seeking to attend TUSD’s highest-performing middle school are turned away due to lack of space. But that could change soon as the district plans to move Dodge Traditional Magnet Middle School to a larger campus next year.

The plan to expand Tucson Unified School District’s only A-rated middle school is part of a comprehensive new boundary plan required under the district’s decades-old desegregation order, which calls for campuses to be integrated, meaning one racial or ethnic group may not exceed 70 percent of a school’s enrollment.

The Dodge initiative and plans for other TUSD schools were approved by the Governing Board on Tuesday night. The options adopted will not go into effect until the 2015-2016 school year.

Options include voluntary busing across town from racially concentrated schools to integrated schools, altering boundary lines and the development of new programming and express routes that would encourage students to leave their neighborhood schools, increasing diversity at other campuses. In the case of Dodge, not only is it an integrated school, it is also attractive academically, as evidenced by the waiting list.

Support for the option — which would provide 260 more seats — was split, with existing Dodge families mostly preferring to maintain the status quo, citing concerns that a change could impact an already successful model, while parents who would like more of a chance at having their children admitted mostly supported moving to the larger Fort Lowell-Townsend campus, which has been closed for one year.

TUSD Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva has long advocated for equal access to quality programming, but has similar worries as the Dodge families.

“I have some real strong concerns because we haven’t been incredibly successful at replicating models,” Grijalva said. “And what I’ve heard from Dodge parents is very strong that ‘we like what we have going on here and if you move us somewhere else, what assurances do you have that it is going to be the same?’ ”

TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez did not dismiss those thoughts, saying the key will be in ensuring that new teachers buy into the Dodge model and are committed to the school’s philosophy. Also important is growing the school incrementally, one grade at a time, by about 75 students per year.

While the move is expected to cost TUSD as much as $1.9 million to reopen and renovate the school and to hire additional staff, failing to move forward would also be costly to the district, he said.

“What we found through conversation is, if parents can’t get their children into Dodge, they are going to Basis, so we lose students that we wouldn’t have otherwise if there had been space,” Sanchez said. “The pros outweigh the cons. ...

We have to do it right.”

Other options approved are:

  • Providing transportation for students who want to move from certain racially concentrated schools to Howell and Sewell elementary schools, both of which are integrated and, in some cases, are higher-performing. The students would be coming from Lynn/Urquides, Maldonado, Manzo, Miller, Mission View, Tolson and Oyama elementary schools, requiring a bus ride of anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. The cost for transportation and additional teachers is estimated at $720,000. Board Members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman dissented.
  • Creating a shared attendance area that would allow students from C-rated Mansfeld Middle School to attend the nearby B-rated Roskruge K-8. The change could reduce racial concentration at Roskruge, but it would impact few students. Both schools are considered to be racially concentrated with 80 percent or more Hispanic students. TUSD does not anticipate any additional costs.
  • Providing transportation options to serve Cholla, Pueblo, Palo Verde and Santa Rita high schools. This would allow students at Cholla and Pueblo, which are racially concentrated, to attend schools that are integrated — Palo Verde — or neutral — Santa Rita. The voluntary express route would make high schools and their programs more accessible to students who may not have considered them previously due to distance. Though the Governing Board approved this option, the district will gauge student interest to determine if there is a demand for it. Two additional buses needed for the express route would cost $130,000.

One recommendation that was previously presented — the creation of early middle college programs that would put students on a pathway to advanced college degrees — was placed on hold to allow more time for a plan on what could be offered at Santa Rita and Cholla.

“What would not be offered would be low-level, low-skill, low-paying (vocational technical) schools of the past where you’re banging on fenders and doing oil changes,” Sanchez said. “We’re talking really exploring a high-level campus.”

The district intends to seek partnerships with the business community, higher education institutions and Pima County JTED for external support and funding for the programs, which are estimated to cost about $7 million each. An update is due in December.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@tucson.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea