Saturday, December 22, 2012

TUSD begins effort to inform public about effects of school closings

Posted: Dec 21, 2012 7:07 PM Updated: Dec 21, 2012 7:07 PM

By Barbara Grijalva - bio | email

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The Tucson Unified School District is beginning it's push to get everyone on the same page after the governing board made its final decision on which schools will be closed at the end of the school year.

At Thursday night's meeting, the board decided to close eleven schools.

14 had been considered for closure as the board looks for ways to deal with an estimated $17 million budget gap next year.

Here's a look at the schools that will close.

The elementary schools are Schumaker, Corbett, Lyons, Brichta and Menlo Park.

Fort Lowell-Townsend K-8 will close.

Hohokam, Carson, and Wakefield Middle Schools will close, and so will Howenstine High School.

Maxwell Middle School also will close, but will re-open as a K-8 school.

The board decided to keep three schools open, that had been considered for closure.

They are Sewell, Cragin and Manzo Elementary Schools.

Manzo could become a TUSD charter school.

The big question now. What happens next?

What happens next is that, at least the TUSD superintendent is hoping, the closures of the 11 schools can be the end of it.

However, it's possible there could be more closures in the coming years.

Dr. John Pedicone called a news conference Friday to, as he put it, "get the truth out there."

He says the hard decisions had to be made to just begin to deal with the budget shortfall.

The district is experiencing declining enrollment and a legislature that consistently allocates less on schools than legislatures do in just about every other state.

Friday Pedicone repeated his goal has been to keep the budget reductions out of the classroom, and that's why schools are being closed.

Pedicone says his frustration is with the situation.

"I don't expect that the legislature is going to be any kinder than they've been in the past. I mean I don't know that I have a whole lot of hope that we're going to see an abundance of funds coming back into K-12 education, so the most I can hope for is that we don't lose any more margin, we don't lose any more ground," Pedicone says.

All schools will remain open until the end of this school year, May 23, 2013.

Students will move to their new, consolidated schools in the fall.

Pedicone says the decision to close schools is generating many questions, and he called a news conference Friday to, as he put it, "get the truth out there."

Pedicone says many people wonder why the district chose to close schools first instead of cutting programs.

He says closing schools first is less destructive to the classrooms themselves because it means fewer cuts to programs that help students achieve.

"Because closures-- if we believe, and we do, that schools closures are necessary--have the less direct impact on taking something away from our students. Not closing schools would've meant more and deeper cuts to programs, services and operations that take away from student support," Pedicone says.

"We hope that parents understand that this really is to provide better opportunities for their children that we cannot provide in small schools that are under-subscribed," Pedicone says.

The superintendent says there's more belt-tightening to come.

Pedicone listed things such as reducing the cost of benefits, administration cuts and outsourcing "essential functions."

There also are questions about the effect of the school closures and consolidations on the district's attempts to comply with the desegregation order.

The closing of schools and the redrawing of boundaries have to be approved by a federal court because TUSD is under a desegregation order.

The district expects the judge will approve.

Reasons are that it's expected student diversity will not change at all or will improve at some schools.

Educational opportunities also are expected to improve.

"On equal educational opportunities, is a conversation we have about resources, and that where we have resources that are stretched thin, we have more inequities from school to school. And where we can consolidate schools, it really helps the effort of providing more equitable opportunities at those consolidated sites," says Samuel E. Brown, TUSD Director Desegregation.

Brown says the district will file the first court papers on the school closings next week.

Pedicone says decisions on where students from closed schools will be transferred will not be finalized until school boundaries are set and approved by the court.

Pedicone says boundary redrawing will involve establishing parent and staff regional boundary committees, and holding public hearings.

He says that process will begin the week of January 7.

That's the week the district begins the spring 2013 semester.

Copyright 2012 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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