TUSD School Closures: 'We're Going to Have to Band Together As Parents, Teachers and Students'

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The Tucson Unified School District's governing board heard pleas from dozens of parents, students and educators on why their school shouldn't be on the proposal list for school closures and consolidations — made public for the first time on Monday evening. The meeting started at 6 p.m. and ended around 11:30 p.m.

Held at Catalina Magnet High School, about 300 people filled the large auditorium. The largest contingent of parents and students came from Hollinger and Pueblo Gardens schools, as well as a group from Ochoa. While Ochoa was not on the closure list as it has been in the past, a group of parents and activists from South Tucson who helped start a campaign this summer to prevent school closures, showed up to show their support.

They also expressed their thanks to the board, and let them know they were there to support other schools, and to help develop other solutions, besides school closures.

The entire point of the meeting is to figure out what schools to close and consolidate in order to chip away at the $17 million budget shortfall first presented to the governing board by TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone last spring. Three community town halls were held to explain the financial issues and get input; and most recently several focus groups made up of parents, business owners and community members met to put together options and school closure/consolidation criteria.

That criteria was shared with TUSD staff in a letter from Pedicone explaining the process. Based on that criteria approved by the board, at the end of the meeting— a meeting in which the board extended call to audience twice — the board took the list of schools provided to them and decided which ones should be put in the closure/consolidation proposal and be presented to the community in a series of public hearings.

Another group of schools were tabled for discussion at the next TUSD meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27 — board members requested more information on the school, what schools those students would go to when their school closed and other community issues.

The public hearings scheduled by the board take place Saturday, Dec. 8 and Dec. 10th, The board discussed having one hearing on the east side and another on the west side.. The board is expected to make a final decision on the closures on Dec. 18. The next year — with new board members Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez replacing Miguel Cuevas and Alexandre Sugiyama — the board will have to approve boundary changes to go with the closures and consolidations, and work on a bond project to help pay for the renovations of some of the schools kids would be moving into.

The way the vote went down:

Hohokum Middle School: Unanimous vote for closure

Carson Middle School: Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman only no votes: “I made a commitment not to support closure in three years,” Stegeman said.

Pueblo Gardens Pre K-8: Tabled for Nov. 27. Adelita Grijalva said she has concerns about what schools the students will attend in the neighborhood. There's also concern because the school is successful and has the only dual language GATE program in the state.

Hollinger Elementary: On the first round, Grijalva and Hicks were the only no votes, but toward the end of the meeting, Stegeman asked the board to revisit their vote. The rest of the board agreed and it was tabled for discussion at the Nov. 27 meeting. Stegeman said since Hollinger is a solid B graded school he's not sure if closing it is the right thing to do.

Schumacker Elementary: Hicks only no vote.

Cragin Elementary was tabled for Nov. 27 meeting.

Ft. Lowell-Townsend K-8: Hicks and Cuevas only no votes. “I am concerned moving students twice. It is a real concern and they have made progress,” Stegeman said. “But this is a valuable use of property. A big chunk of savings … about double what most of the other elementary school represent.”

Corbett Elementary: Unanimous yes.

Brichta and Menlo Park elementary schools: Tabled for Nov. 27. “I am very concerned. We have so many west side schools being considered. This is a young community for the most part … you've basically eliminated three schools in one area of town,” Grijalva said.

Lyons Elementary: Hicks and Stegeman only no votes.

Warren Elementary: The only board member to support is closure was Sugiyama. Stegeman pointed out that Warren is out-performing the schools that would be used to place Warren students next school year. “I don't see how you can say that to the Warren community.”

Manzo Elementary — Tabled for Nov. 27 meeting. Grijalva mentioned that the school has close ties to its surrounding community and has is part of the Chicano Movement history in Tucson. The school has also been working hard the past three years to increase performance, although it still struggles. But it has a recognized environmental program.

Sewell Elementary — Hicks voted no.

Howenstine High Magnet School — While a unanimous yes, the board did discuss the school pool, which has become an important part of therapy offered to TUSD special ed students throughout the district.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, who identified herself as a TUSD parent of an 11 year-old student, was also active in the Prop 204 initiative, the sales tax earmarked for Arizona public education, but defeated this past election. Pedersen also helped found and is current president of the Arizona Education Network, after TUSD first brought school closures up when Roger Pfeuffer was superintendent.

“These board members are here to do an unpleasant task,” Pedersen said, adding that meetings like the one on Tuesday were happening in other cities across Arizona.

“We have a state legislature unwilling to adequately fun education. … This legislature cut a billion dollars and have no intention of putting that back in our children's school. If we don't want this to continue, layoffs to continue, we're going to have to ban together as parents, teachers and students.”

Pedersen reminded the audience that if Prop 204 passed it would have helped TUSD with the $17 million deficit and more.

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