TUSD aims at creating "premier schools" as it closes schools - Tucson News Now

TUSD aims at creating better schools as it closes others

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The Tucson Unified School District is moving forward with a plan to consolidate more schools as it looks for ways to close a $17 million budget gap.

Tuesday night, the governing board laid out the framework for which schools will be selected to be closed.

Ten factors will influence the final decision, including academic performance and enrollment.

It's not considered easy to close schools for anyone involved.

The TUSD governing board voted to close nine of them just two years ago.

The district will close up to 10 more at the end of the current school year.

However, TUSD is hoping to make the best of the school consolidations.

TUSD Planning Services Program Manager Bryant Nodine says they have studied what other districts have done when they had to close schools.

"The ones that were successful in how they did it were the ones that created some improvements  to the district through having to make the changes. And so that's really what we're trying to do.  Look at ways we can serve our teachers better.  Look at ways we can get better resources into the  classrooms," Nodine says.  

The head of the teachers union, the Tucson Education Association, Frances Banales, says the district must work to make the transition as easy as possible on students and families, and to minimize layoffs.

She also agrees it's best to consider the closures, not a loss, but a gain, in the schools that remain open.

Banales says it's about building a premier school.  

"Then we can market that and do that right--making sure that we're bringing all the stakeholders together, making sure that we're addressing their needs and then highlighting what opportunities are you going to have now, by coming to this newly formed school that you may not have had in the current situation that you were in at maybe a smaller school or a school that wasn't performing as well," Banales says.

A list of schools to be considered for closure will be presented to the school board at the end of this week.

The next school board meeting is next Tuesday, November 20. 

The public will be asked for input on the proposed school closures.

The tight budget is not the only reason TUSD will be closing more schools.

Nodine says the district is suffering what many urban school districts are.

The population is aging, while younger families head to the suburbs.

"Then on top of that we've had increased charter schools-- a number of charter schools and we've had a shift of students from one side of the district to the other. Not that they're moving. It's just that one area is a growing area and one area is a declining area," Nodine says.

Nodine says overall, the TUSD student population is declining.

He says charter schools nationwide have grown by about five times what they were 10 years ago, while inside TUSD they've grown about six times.

Comments on the TUSD Master Plan are being taken here.

In a news release, TUSD outlined the criteria it will use to decide which schools will be closed:

School Consolidation Criteria approved by the TUSD Governing Board

Part One: A list of candidates for school closure that focuses on, but need not be limited to, middle schools, includes no more than ten schools altogether, is based on the following ten criteria, in no particular order, and includes for each candidate a written rationale that focuses on these criteria:

1.  High cost savings, after accounting for likely enrollment losses, condition of the school, required renovations at receiving schools, and increased transportation costs.
 
2.  Low academic performance, especially taking into account the demographics of the student population.
 
3.  Lack of success in attracting families, based on enrollment trends and the attraction/flight ratio. 
 
4.  Weak prospects for turnaround in enrollment and academic performance, based on current and foreseeable assets.
 
5.  Easy transitions for families to high performing nearby schools.  (This criterion is especially important for elementary schools.)
 
6.  Good prospects for retaining students, based on the strength of the receiving schools and the weakness of competition from charter schools, private schools, and other districts.
 
7.  Preservation of unique programs and activities, if there is strong demand for those programs.
 
8.  Likelihood of reducing or at least not exacerbating ethnic imbalances within schools.
 
9.  High likely value of the site in an alternative use.
 
10. Considerable distance from the sites of recently closed schools.
 

Part Two:  For each closure candidate a report with the following information: 

1.  Estimated cost savings.  Net annual itemized savings, assuming that all teachers are moved rather than laid off.  Comparison to cost savings which could be achieved by conversion to a charter school.
 
2.  Concurrent use of the site.  Current use of the school by organizations other than TUSD.  Likely prospects for future such use if the school remains open.

3.  Competition. 
A list of nearby charter and private schools.  Evaluation of the intensity of the competition provided by those schools and by any nearby school district.
 
4.  A map showing schools in the neighborhood of the closure candidate.  It should include the closure candidate and potential receiving schools, the locations of any recently closed TUSD schools within five miles, and the locations of major competing schools. 
 
5.  Plausible options for site disposition or reuse.  These should take account of the site's specific characteristics.
 
6.  Any other relevant unique or unusual features of the school.

7.  Letters from the site council and principal.  The school's site council should have an opportunity to review the information given to the Board and to write a letter to the Board concerning any errors or omissions.  The school's principal should have a similar and separate opportunity.  This can be provided after the Board initiates closure.

 
Part Three:  For each closure candidate and potential receiving school a report with the following information:
  

1.  Academic performance including actual average AIMS scores and ADE grades for the past two years. 

2.  Condition of facilities
including the facilities condition index and itemization of significant bond program upgrades at that school.
 
3.  Enrollment including total current enrollment and history for the past five years, projections of future enrollment, and notations to special factors that may have affected enrollment, e.g. boundary changes.
 
4.  Current staffing including a breakdown of the current staffing at the school, funding source, and how many years the current principal has been assigned to the school. 
 
5.  Current attraction and flight data.

6.  Demographic characteristics including ethnic composition and percentage of free and reduced lunch.
 
7.  Special programs that distinguish this school from other TUSD schools.  In the case of schools considered for closure: the movability of these programs and the potential synergies or consolidations among programs at the closed school and receiving schools.
 
8.  Transportation time and costs including the typical distance from families enrolled at the closed school to possible receiving schools, typical bus transportation time for the same families, to possible receiving schools, and the projected increase in transportation costs, both gross and net of projected state reimbursement.
 
9.  Capacity for each receiving school excluding portables and the nature and cost of expected necessary improvements. 

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