Threat of Thornydale Elementary closure brings perturbed parents together again

School at risk of closure

MARANA, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Parents, students, and community members showed up en masse - once again - to urge the Marana Unified School District governing board to save Thornydale Elementary.

On Tuesday night, Nov. 20, in the Thornydale Elementary cafeteria, Superintendent Dr. Doug Wilson and MUSD staff presented the plan to adjust the school attendance boundaries and turn the campus into multi-use space for the relocation of four district departments and school services.

Statistics from the district showed that enrollment has steadily declined over the last two decades. There were 733 students enrolled at Thornydale Elementary in 1994, compared to 307 in 2018.

"I cannot believe we are back here again," said Nicole Felix Pogue, a parent to four Thornydale students and an alum, herself. "I know when I got the email again for the first time, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing - the feeling of, I don't know if I can do this again. It's so emotional for us."

She sat in the front row Tuesday night to hear the discussion, wearing a white t-shirt with the text “#SaveThornydale,” after sitting in that same front row in March 2018 while wearing the same shirt.

In March 2018, Dr. Wilson made the same recommendation to the board to consider the closure of Thornydale Elementary, built in 1974.

In April 2018, the Marana Unified School District Governing Board voted not to close the school.

Felix Pogue was under the impression, as many parents were, that the school and community would be given time to recover and build up its base.

Yet, she was back to make the same argument seven months later.

"There are some of us who are just too stubborn to give up. I'm not going down without a fight. My kids deserve better than that. I'll show up to every single thing there is, because they deserve to be treated the same way as every other kid in the school district," she said.

She was seated among the smaller-than-last-time and noticeably discouraged crowd Tuesday night.

By redrawing the district boundaries, Thornydale's students would be split up between nearby Butterfield Elementary and Quail Run Elementary.

The presentation showed that Quail Run's expected enrollment would jump from 521 to 550 students, while Butterfield's expected enrollment would rise from 397 this year to 573 next year.

One parent argued that the district will be spending a fortune to make these changes.

“You need bus transportation. You have to ship these kids to all these class--Do these other parents know that we’re going to shove our kids in their classes? What do they feel about that?”

But Superintendent Wilson has stated that the plan will do what's best for the entire district and "ensure sustainability for 12,300 students."

Revenue for the district is generated on a per-pupil basis and schools with lower enrollment generate less revenue. Thornydale Elementary is MUSD's most expensive school to operate.

On Tuesday night, teachers were taken aback. They were discouraged to learn that all the effort put into building up their beloved but aging school might not be enough to save it.

"We make our school shine and sparkle with our mere presence and our academics. I will put up my own bulletin board to patch drywall and bricks that are falling apart in my classroom, if I have to, because that's what teachers here do," one teacher said emphatically. "Absolutely heartbroken that you guys are now doing this to us twice -- twice -- in one year."

Board members have not yet called for a vote. The earliest they could schedule a vote would be at their next regularly scheduled meeting on December 6, an MUSD spokesperson told Tucson News Now.

The decision to close the school would force Felix Pogue and her three currently enrolled children to look elsewhere for schooling.

For her, and many other parents by her estimate, that means they'll be gone for good.

“You’re going to put my kid on the outs, throw them on a bus, and shove them in somewhere? Nope,” she said. “Not getting a dime from me, ever again.”

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