West side residents fighting possible closures of schools - Tucson News Now

West side residents fighting possible closures of schools

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Tucson's largest school district is meeting more resistance to plans to close schools.

The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board is considering closing 14 schools to deal with a $17 million budget shortfall, and that's not sitting well some people, especially on the west side. 

The possible closures of four west side schools is what is of concern to west side residents who say the schools are part of the culture there and have been for generations.

Some of those parents and neighbors gathered Friday for a news conference to express their sadness, frustration and even anger about the possible closures of Brichta, Menlo Park and Manzo Elementary Schools and Maxwell Middle School.

"Reducing the budget deficit should not be done on the backs of these children, the under-served, under-represented children," says Ylenia Aguilar de Martinez, the mother of a Manzo Elementary School student.

Parents and residents say west side schools are part of the fabric and the heartbeat of a contiguous neighborhood of mostly minority, and many low-income, residents.

They say the schools are keeping these neighborhoods alive.

"It's almost like a mentorship program for the kids. I mean one neighbor built the wall for the tortoise garden and showed the kids how to lay bricks and rocks," says Karin Have who bought a home near Manzo Elementary because she liked the gardens and farmers market and  how the school was integrated into the neighborhood.

There's a great worry that without a neighborhood school, young families will leave and others will not even consider buying there, making TUSD's enrollment decline even worse, and damaging strong, vibrant neighborhoods.

"We don't think closing schools and affecting our neighborhoods is the way to balance a budget," says Stephanie Hamilton, mother of three Brichta students. "I do not think that this is in the best interest of our children, let alone our families or our neighborhoods. I think there are other ways that they can make cuts in the budget to resolve the deficit,"

And some members of the group have been looking at those other ways, including cutting waste, making the district more efficient in the use of buildings and maintenance, and even cutting some programs.

"TUSD cannot be all things to all people. They are going to need to prioritize," says Jane Simpson, Grandmother of former Brichta and Maxwell students.

The concerned citizens say voters expressed their desire not to close schools when they elected two new school board members in November.

The parents and neighbors do not want the current board to vote on school closures.

"People already did their part. They voted for new Board members with new leadership and new solutions. We want them to make those decisions. We elected them to make those decisions," says west side resident Miguel Ortega. "We have some solutions, but we expect the new board to come up with better solutions before rushing to close our schools."

Those gathered on Friday say they will hold the current school board and the incoming one accountable.

TUSD will hold two public hearings over the next two days on the closure of the 14 schools.

The first meeting will be Saturday at Catalina Magnet High School, 3645 East Pima Street in midtown.

It starts at 10:00 a.m.

The second meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 10, at 6:00 p.m.

It also will be at Catalina.

The current board is set to vote on the closures December 20.

Any schools that may be closed will operate normally through the end of this school year.

The closures will take effect next school year.

Copyright 2012 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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