TUSD public hearing focuses on school closures

A week after the TUSD Governing Board was asked to write a large check for a central office administrative position, about 100 members of the public listened as district officials explained how they intend to overcome a projected $17 million deficit in the next school year.

The Tucson Unified School District faces substantial budget challenges due to demographic shifts in the community, declining enrollment, the resulting reduced state funding, and escalating expenses for utilities and maintenance.

School closures and a bond measure are top on the list of the district’s desired solutions.

Last night, City of South Tucson Mayor, Jennifer Eckstrom came to ensure that Ochoa Elementary School is not on the chopping block. For a number of years, the “D” school has had some of the lowest AIMS scores in the district. It employs an untested experimental curriculum that has cost the district tens of thousands of dollars in travel for teacher training.

This summer, the district spent money on television ads to recruit students to Ochoa. The ad did not mention Ochoa’s failing status.

While saying they are encouraging public participation and input, the district personnel will present plans for more school closures.

Due to the district’s failure to improve academic achievement in a meaningful way, enrollment is steadily declining. Over 13,000 classrooms seats sit empty.

As word gets out that more schools are being considered for closure, more parents remove their children from what they believe is an unstable school environment.

The town halls are intended to provide input as to how the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board should make budget decisions to overcome a projected $17 million deficit.

“The tricky part for TUSD is to cut the budget and protect student learning. Anything else is just going to result in more cuts in the next few years as even more parents take their kids…and the money that goes with them…to other districts and charters. My two concrete suggestions were: (1) to save $9 million by bringing TUSD administrative costs down to the same level as other very large districts, and (2) to eliminate every single program that cannot show it improves student learning,” said Rich Kronberg, long time teacher and education activist with TU4SD. “The voters should turn out any incumbent who does not vote to protect student learning in this process and should not support any candidate who cannot articulate how they’d cut the budget and protect student learning at the same time.

Last week, the TUSD Governing Board voted to reward a contract to Deputy Superintendent Maria Menconi for $151,000. The contract was approved as part of a package of all the cabinet members. The TUSD Board was not provided the Menconi’s contract before being asked to approve it. Dr. Mark Stegeman found it “strange for the Board to approve contracts that it hasn’t even seen.” When Menconi’s position was created over a year ago, it was supposed to be temporary.

Last night, the district passed out fliers outlining possible solutions:

• Increase class sizes by six to eight students: Would save $16.9 million.
• Consolidate schools, close buildings: Would save $500,000 to $1 million per site.
• Reduce salaries, benefits: A 9 percent reduction overall would save $17 million.
• Eliminate full-day kindergarten: Would save $5.3 million.
• Eliminate assistant principals: Would save $4.8 million.
• Eliminate librarians, and assistants and counselors: Would save $7.1 million.

Two more public meetings will be held August 22, and 25.

Wednesday, August 22 6:30– 8:30pm
Auditorium: Cholla High Magnet School, 2001 W. Starr Pass Blvd.
Directions: West on Broadway to Euclid; turn left Euclid turns into Park. South on Park Avenue to 22nd Street; turn right. West on 22nd Street past Mission Road. (22nd Street turns into West Starr Pass Blvd.)

Saturday, August 25 10am – noon
Auditorium: Catalina Magnet High School, 3645 E. Pima St.
Directions: East on Broadway to Campbell; turn left. North on Campbell to Elm Street; turn right (Elm turns into Pima Street.) East on Pima Street to entrance.