by David Safier
TUSD put 14 schools on the block for closure. After last night's vote, 3 survived: Sewell, Manzo and Cragin. The rest are scheduled to be shuttered.
As awful as the results are, closing schools was inevitable. It may be that creative planning could have saved more of them by partnering with other public and private institutions to share space. It may be that better, more innovative programs could have made some of the schools more successful academically and helped them attract more students. But with the legislature starving the schools, there isn't a whole lot of leeway. In better budgetary times, the district could give schools a 2-3 year window to increase test scores and the number of students attending, but our conservative majority made sure districts have to cut fast and deep. It's part of the overall move toward privatization of education, and government in general. Arizona is at the forefront of the movement.
So what now? The closings have to be OK'd by the Feds to make sure they don't work counter to deseg efforts. Based on what I heard at the meeting last night before I left, the closings would not create less integration and often would increase the amount of integration in the remaining schools. If that's true, unless the Feds think closing schools in certain areas is a bad idea, I expect the TUSD closure decisions will stand.
Closing the 11 schools will result in $4 million in savings, but the District says it has a $17 million shortfall. I'm always suspicious of an absolute number like $17 million, but let's not quibble. There's still a $10 million-plus budget problem. Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, who ran for School Board, is working with others to try and get a handle on ways the District can save money through a combination of administrative cuts and reductions in "fixed costs" like water and electricity. It's an important effort. The entire TUSD budget should be an open book to allow parents, staff and other community members to help decide how to do the least harm with every dollar cut. The District should willingly put all the numbers on the table for analysis.