As Tucson’s largest school district continues to struggle with declining enrollment that has left several of its high schools well below capacity, Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo offered up a plan to shift students to underutilized schools.
A portion of the proposal sought to attract students to high schools such as Santa Rita, Sabino, Palo Verde and Catalina by revamping the schools’ career and technical education offerings and enhancing credit recovery options designed to keep students who fall behind from leaving the district for charter schools.
Trujillo also pitched the idea of pushing students into starkly underpopulated schools by changing attendance boundaries, which would simultaneously relieve overcrowding at University and Rincon, which share a campus, and Tucson High.
But the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board on Tuesday rebuffed the latter part of Trujillo’s plan, leaving him worried that the district will come up short by focusing only on attracting students into underenrolled campuses with new programs.
“In order to address this issue right now, it’s almost kind of impossible to try to do it without some sort of boundary review,” he said.
Trujillo described TUSD as a school system “in peril” and noted that the district will have to reinvent itself to survive.
“We know we are under attack on various fronts. With regards to declining enrollment, with regard to a look at our facilities and the possibility of (Vail Unified School District) taking of our facilities. We have a responsibility to field a superior product,” he said.
At Catalina, the plan calls for implementing a schoolwide AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) education model which provides intensive support for students with higher education as the end goal. The plan would also extend after-school credit recovery programs, increase dual credit courses that allow high school students to earn college credits, and offer after-school English language development courses. The school’s culinary Career Technical Education (CTE) program would also be extended to after-school hours.
At Cholla, it would mean starting new CTE programs in computer science and college and career investigations, which expose students to various CTE curriculum.
At Pueblo, the revitalization plan calls for extended after-school credit recovery programs, increased dual enrollment options and after-school English language classes. The school would see expanded CTE programs in health-care foundations and home health aide, as well as an extended-day automotive technologies CTE program.
Rincon would see the introduction of a digital photography CTE program.
At Sabino, the plan calls for extended-day credit recovery options.
Sahuaro would receive extended-day credit recovery options and more dual enrollment classes, as well as new CTE classes in computer science, and college and career investigation.
At Santa Rita, Trujillo’s plan calls for extended-day credit recovery options and more dual credit college courses. It would receive new CTE offerings in bioscience, computer science, cyber security, dental assistance and new diesel automotive technology.
How the district will pay for all of the new course offerings is still an open question. TUSD is suffering a current year expected budget shortfall of between $4.5 million and $6 million.
Trujillo’s high school boundary review proposal aimed to relieve crowding at Rincon by moving the boundary line to push some students into Palo Verde, and easing crowding at Tucson High by ceding some of its territory to Catalina.
But the board majority took issue with Trujillo’s plan, and in a testy meeting full of hurled accusations, the board ordered Trujillo to back off the boundary review.
Board President Mark Stegeman chided his fellow board members for disagreeing with Trujillo’s recommendation to at least explore boundary changes, saying a review is overdue and could solve several of the district’s enrollment problems in one swoop.
“Apparently a majority of this board does not even trust the staff to initiate” the boundary review, he said.
Board member Adelita Grijalva said with open enrollment, which allows students to choose where they go to school regardless of their home address, changing boundaries won’t work.
“We cannot dictate where students are going to want to go. Just because we tell you, ‘Now instead of going to Rincon, you’re going to go to Catalina,’ that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” she said.
Grijalva said the district should try attracting students with the new programs before changing attendance boundaries. Merely discussing boundary changes makes parents nervous, Grijalva said, adding that because boundary changes require buy-in from the district’s desegregation plaintiffs and the court, it’s a long shot anyway.
Stegeman pushed back against the idea that TUSD’s desegregation case would automatically prevent the district from making boundary changes.
And he criticized board member Michael Hicks, who sided with members Kristel Foster and Grijalva in blocking the boundary review, saying Hicks has repeatedly complained about the plaintiffs dictating how the board runs the district but now seemed to be acquiescing to their demands.
“The opinions of the plaintiffs are not the same as the letter of the (desegregation plan),” Stegeman said.
Hicks was particularly concerned that Rincon’s staff saw the plan as a way to slowly kill off the school to make more room for University High students on the shared campus. He accused Stegeman of backing the plan just to get University High its own campus.
“I know you made a commitment to give UHS its own school. Everyone knows that. A lot of people don’t want to say it. I’ll say it because I’m not afraid of you or anyone else,” he said. “I think the idea is at some point Rincon will shrink and UHS will take over Rincon. I think that’s the hope of some on this board.”