A completely different subject: TUSD school closures


by David Safier

I received this email from a friend this morning. Here's the whole thing.

I love to go out to breakfast and today, I had the urge to go to Ghini’s. As I was almost finished, in walked Mark Stegman. I told him how impressed I was with the people who testified at the [school closure] hearing on Monday evening and hoped this board would leave the matter to the incoming board. He does not agree – like, really does not agree!!! I mentioned that both Jeff Rogers and Steve Kozachik on AZ Illustrated last night thought that was what should happen. He did not agree. I pointed out to him that their administrative costs were waaaay too high and should be lowered – I don’t think he heard that. I seconded the suggestion of one parent that by putting solar on the schools – which they could do at no cost with many of the installers and he did not agree. Finally, I said well, we just don’t agree and he kept pushing that it has to be done RIGHT AWAY!!! And I continued to repeat well, we just don’t agree. The man is a bonehead!!!!!!!!!


  1. Well,and along the lines of all the things we are discussing here, how do folks here feel about the new Stegeman proposal? lThat is (yes, Virginia, in the middle of voting to close multiple middle schools) to build a new middle school that focuses on high acheivement (as opposed to what the rest of the middle schools focus on….??!!)that accompanies UHS on a new campus all its own. That campus, of course, would have to come from closing a high school, so we can look forward to a year of all the high schools living under that possibility (except UHS of course). The middle school would be open enrollment, but no test to get in and supposedly no preference given to those students to get into UHS although they might well share a principal……maybe its because i have a very succeeding child in a very unsucceeding but -trying-its-butt-off- middle school that this idea just infuriates me.

  2. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. The bond money that is at play now was actually voted in a long time ago, and the projects need to be completed by this spring–that is what is pushing the timing here, among other things. I think they keep talking like its a courtesy to the teachers and families, but thats strains credibility. I think its that if you don’t USE bond money you LOSE bond money….and no one wants to see that happen. Given how poorly our elected school board is at representing us, I am not at all concerned that the Justice Dept. (am I right about this?) appoints or brings in a Special Master to make sure that justice is being served when it has to do with a three decades long deseg case. The closings have to fulfill the Unitary Status Plan (the deseg plan), as everything the district does for the next 3 years? 5 years? must improve our record on desegregation or we can kiss a possible Unitary Status goodbye. In other words, when an entity shows as little good faith as the District has on an issue of segregation,the Justice Dept. can send someone in to monitor uptake of the new plan that was agreed to by all the parties….

  3. I don’t think the district will close all of the suggested schools, but pitting them against each other without clear standards for closure is punishment for the parents and children and staff. Some will be closed. If I were doing it, lowest ranked schools, lowest enrollment schools, and schools that have poor records for staff turnover and inability or unwillingness to encourage open enrollment would be the ones selected. A factor that many do not seem to grasp is that the growth of homes for young families is in the outlying districts, not in TUSD. Children move because their families move. Also, no one has published a valid study on the charter school back and forth traffic. I have personally and professionally seen students pulled by their parents into charters for specific times, who then bring them back to TUSD because this district has more to offer: technology, gifted and special ed classes, athletics, friendships, etc. Angry parents will leave when they don’t like principals or teachers. Much internal work in the district must be done whether or not schools are closed Thursday night.

  4. So, the deseg “Special Master”, I think appointed by the court as part of an order to make TUSD and the lawyers negotiate, will have the power to close specific schools, in effect?

    This is a horrible abrogation of power to an non-elected official. TUSD should make the closures based on primarily performance, even Sewell has 67% minorities, keeping failing schools open will only hurt minority kids. And at bigger elementary schools there is more competition for schools funds/extra curriculars as such schools are crowded . . . guess who loses? Minorities.

    I don’t understand why MAS studies, a curriculum controversy, and school closures are part of the deseg resolution. Why would opposing lawyers in a deseg lawsuit which hasn’t yet been decided have control over which schools are closed?! Unbelievable . . . I think Betts Putnam-Hildago might have her facts wrong, TUSD is closing schools purely out of greed, they want the $$ to keep flowing to 1010.

    And from what I know, Betts, the schools bond issue hasn’t been passed yet, so voters can still turn it down to stop school closures.

  5. Ah, I think that the biggest outcry will come when schools are closed. TUSD already closed a ton of elementary schools, at least on the east side, with more to come now. Some students may now have to move a second time to a new elementary school. There is a six mile square area on the eastside without any elementary schools, yes, parents will be up in arms and they won’t forget this soon.

    Recently I learned that TUSD put out a bid for $500,000 for a new TUSD logo and PR campaign. Hilarious given that once parents find out about this it will torpedo their reputation faster.

    Steve K. on the City Council will be calling for a special meeting with TUSD, and I think they have some ‘splaining to do with regards to closing schools before canceling huge bonuses and high consulting fees and an expensive marketing campaign at 1010.

  6. Some schools are kept open just because they have empty seats, empty classrooms. And schools like Sewell, which are full, are being sold because the school property is zoned residential and they want to sell it to a high end apartment developer. I think this is obvious as TUSD blatantly lied about Sewell’s future, which they said was residential development, or maybe the church next door would buy the whole school. Well, the church said that this was completely untrue. When has a church ever bought an elementary school in Tucson!?

    TUSD will sell Sewell’s land for millions, and the money goes to 1010 to fund Pedicone’s $30,000 bonus, and $$ for administrators. TUSD runs the schools like s business, they are selling big elementary schools, irregardless of ADE ranking and capacity. Sewell is the only B school on the list, yet Hudlow, which is D, or double D, received parental letters in September saying the school would have to bus students to Sewell (I guess in new portables) as Hudlow is a failing school.

    Guess what happened. Sewell is slated for closure and Hudlow’s students can wallow in a grade D school longer. For those that don’t know, Hudlow is relative close to Sewell.

  7. TUSD wants schools above 400 because that means more money for central administration, 1010. 1010 spends something like 180 more per student on central administration than the average school district. The 400-sized schools is really just to fund 1010. If 1010 was cut to *average* levels for administration then that would save something like $9 million. Double the money saved from closing schools.

    Sewell has added portables, has more students than it had in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70′, 90’s . . . no way the school is not more “profitable” than it was then, when it was obviously able to stay open. The problem is that 1010 keeps asking for a bigger slice of the pie.

    It is important that elementary schools have a smaller size, younger students need a less intimidating school they can call home for the elementary years. Pedicone and friends are simply uneducated when it comes to understanding why cities across the nation setup elementary schools to have a certain size. There is a “small school effect”, you go to a smaller school and you do better academically.

  8. Steve Kozachik and others pointed to the bloated administrative costs. One parent quoted the savings in administrative cost for having solar which can be done with many groups at no cost and a fixed monthly charge. I put solar on my home using Solar City. You can do it with nothing down and a very reasonable monthly cost – much lower than what TEP charges. I used that system and was amazed that my cost is about 1/3 of what I used to pay TEP.

  9. I am now wishing that in the early days of the school closure discussions we had put it on the table in the following way: Cut central admin by, lets say for grins, 60%, unless you can find the cuts elsewhere without closing schools or programs. THAT might have gotten the District staff and Supe to really think outside of the box. The “rush” is because the proposed list of closures needs to be presented to the Special Master of the deseg plan, who will okay or deny the list of schools one by one. Only then can the retrofitting (adding science labs to K-8s, adding tiny playground equip. to schools receiving elementary students) begin–that will largely be done with bond money that has already been approved but has a spring (i think) time limit on project completion. This, at least, is the argument that is made. It is hard to beleive that 2 weeks would make a big difference, but then according to the TUcson Weekly, the new Board has already been inaugurated and are participating in Exec session meetings, so at some level they are involved. I personally would not look to the new Board to be a panacea on this, but the question is still open as to why we can’t wait. What I have listed above is simply the Districts’ timetable, which they have gone over and gone over ad nauseum. I know from personal experience that many MANY people have looked for creative ways to use the schools while keeping them functioning as schools, others have looked for ways to “repurpose” once closed…but the repurposing could be happening right now. These ideas have been deemed “unrealistic”…which is what I think gutting the south, west and east sides of elementary schools is.

  10. What is wrong with this picture? The proposed school closures will close only part of the deficit. How does the board weigh the closures when there is no proposal for the remainder? Isn’t that how you look at balancing the budget? Do it all at once. When you see the entire proposal, you can evaluate the pros and cons.

    The lame duck board, run by Pedicone, wants to close schools now because there is some support for it. But once they tackle the rest of the budget there will be screaming and yelling worse than we hear now. They are happy to push that element to the new board.

    Put a plan on the table so the closings can be weighed against the other cuts. Maybe we’ll close more or fewer schools. But at least we can weigh all of the costs.

  11. I agree that the new board should make the decisions on the school closures, and I don’t understand the rush– except in terms that the old board has “lame duck syndrome” and thinks they know best. (LAme Duck Syndrome is a common affliction in our political syste,) I also believe that closing schools saves some money but also creates many problems within neighborhoods and continues not only a bad precedent but also opens the door for more charter school expansion. 🙁

    That said, in all of the things I have read in this issue, I have not seen a solid explanation of how certain schools were chosen for closure.

    Please tell me they used some impartial scientific data like a combination of enrollment, school performance, proximity to other schools, growth patterns of the city, etc to make these choices. Dave? You’re the expert.

    I also have not seen much creativity thinking. Progressives and Greens have been pushing the idea of community centers with community computer labs, community classes, health screening, and other needed services in impoverished cities like ours. Underutilized school buildings would be perfect for this. Where are the grant writers?

  12. According to the TUSD CFO, a school needs 400 students to break even and fund all the things a school needs, principal, librarian, counselor, teachers, office manager, attendance clerk, monitors, and custodians. There are many schools in TUSD already over 600 enrollment. In fact the larger, the school, the more resources they are able to provide. Lunch is no problem. Every grade goes to lunch separately, and the food service people do an admirable and efficient job of feeding everyone. We have six lunch periods. No one is deprived of food or time.

    Closing schools is a fiscal issue. Arizonans voted down the tax to fund schools, so this is what we get.

  13. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the board is apparently leaning towards having a bond election to raise the $1.4 million that will be required to close schools and move students. Ridiculous, to have 700 students at an elementary school, what are they going to do with lunch? Have 4 different lunch periods? Build massive cafeterias? Some of the receiving schools have very small playgrounds, it is going to be hard to even have enough room for kids to play, and after school activities like soccer, especially if they have to haul in a ton of portables.

    I say vote the bond down, and then TUSD won’t have taxpayers money to shutdown schools. After going to hearings, I almost feel like TUSD wants to get out of the education business, and they’ll create a couple really bad “super-sized” elementary schools where kids become just a face in the crowd.

  14. I think that the new school board will have to hold another round of hearings for school closures, and no doubt they will be pressed to reconsider some schools closures, and at least take up the issue of TUSD’s top heavy administration. If they pared down TUSD’s central admin, 1010, to average size for Arizona, they’d save $9 million. The Master Plans floated by TUSD involve some mild cuts for 1010, as far as I can tell, but if they went with the max cuts they’d consider, then they’d only have to close maybe 8 schools.

    Moving students to new schools is traumatic, and smaller schools are better for young students. I don’t buy Pedicone’s vision for mega-elementary schools. Big elementary schools seem kinda heartless, especially considering they will be using portables . . . while perfectly good classrooms remain empty.

    I think TUSD should look at solar, there are savings and some small ideas in the Master Plan, but did TUSD miss the boat with regards to federal programs that help with the installation of solar? I don’t think the current board is competent in terms of longterm planning which involves solar. Their elementary school closures will push students to charters/other districts/private schools, they won’t get the 1% attrition rate they want, I am guesstimating about a 10%-15% attrition rate.

  15. Jeff Rogers has mentioned it several times that he thinks that it looks “concerning” that a lame duck TUSD board is racing to push through these closures. I have heard from a local politician, Paul Cunningham, that the board is “racing” to get this done. The question is why?

    Rogers also mentioned that Sewell, a grade B school (the only “B” school on the list) which is at 100% capacity, is scheduled to close despite a plethora of D schools surviving the cut.

    Oh, and the school board was passing around a false rumor that Sewell would perhaps be bought by the neighboring (Antiochian Orthodox) church, well this was completely false as the church priest showed up at meeting and said this was 100% false. The alternate use listed by TUSD in addition to the church is “residential” use for the property.

    A lot of parents plan on petitioning the new board to look at why/how schools were chosen for closure, and the two new board members I believe both lean towards keeping Sewell open, maybe others. I can’t help but think that some shady land developer made a deal with the board concerning Sewell. The board lied about the receiving schools, which are worse than Sewell. I think they should consolidate half-full failing schools before they cut a great school like Sewell.

  16. Did he say why this had to be done now? Mark Stegman has always impressed me as a well-meaning man, but seems totally clueless about the his role on the board and the agenda of those whose oppose him. This type of haste always make me suspicious. Why are other options not being considered? What is TUSD going to do with the closed schools? I’ve heard everything from mothball to sale to charter schools and/or to developers for resale. We all know that this situation is the inevitable outcome of Arizona’s failure to fund education adequately and the corporate education lobby’s desire to find new sources of income to exploit. A recent article in the Financial Times documented venture capitalists’ meetings with investors in New York about the large education market that is ripe for the pickings. TUSD shares some of the blame because of its long history of poor management, but there are also shining examples of success. This whole situation reeks of the “Shock Doctrine.”

    I have many friends with children in TUSD. They have been actively involved in this process. They understand that schools are part of the community and are willing to think creatively about the solution that will further the interests of the entire community. This whole process looks like the board trying to make a great show of listening to the people before they execute a plan they have already privately approved. We elected them to serve the people who live in TUSD not just with their minds, but with their hearts and souls. There are issues in which compromise is appropriate and necessary and some where it is not. It is sad that Mark does not seem to be able to discern between the two.