Looking at TUSD’s closed schools as assets

by David Safier

During the agonizing TUSD school closure process, a number of people advocated thinking of schools as multiple use facilities, where parts of a school with too few students to fill all the classrooms can be put to other community-based uses. Well, it's too late to un-close the closed schools, but the "other use" idea may be taking hold.

Superintendent H.T. Sanchez is proposing turning one or more of the closed schools into day-care centers and preschools for district employees. It's a terrific idea. The district can reopen the buildings and staff them with child care employees — hopefully educated and trained in the best ways to educate children under 5 — for less than most TUSD employees currently pay for child care. The Star article estimates that people are now paying as much as $800 to $1,000 a month. The district estimates it can lower that to about $300 to $350 and break even. And it can work with the unique schedules of teachers and other employees to fit their needs better than many private child care facilities.

I see lots of pluses here. The district can become a model for what quality child care and preschool should look like. It can help raise the respect for people working with young children from "babysitter" to "child care professional." The classrooms will have kids from a mixture of families: children of administrators, teachers, secretarial staff, custodians, cafeteria workers and so on. It could end up being one of the most integrated and economically diverse groupings of young kids in the city. It means TUSD salaries for parents of young children will go farther. Without staff getting a much-deserved raise, young parents could end up with an extra $500 a month in their pockets — more than that for emplyees with more than one very young child. And finally, a few empty buildings can have the lights turned back on and be filled with children once again.

Sanchez imagines just a few centers will be opened at the end of July, ready for when schools start up again after summer. It's possible a better solution, which might have saved a few schools, would have been to create smaller centers in one wing of some schools slated for closure, turning them from K through 6 to Child Care through 6 schools. But given the current reality — the schools have been closed and the children sent elsewhere — this is a terrific step forward for TUSD, and it may lead to more creative thinking about other uses for other closed schools in the future.

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