Court needs to OK before 11 Tucson schools close doors

TUCSON, AZ - A federal court will need to sign off before a Tucson Unified School District can move ahead with its plan to close 11 schools to save money because the district remains under federal court supervision of its racial desegregation efforts.

Superintendent John Pedicone tells the Arizona Daily Star the closures could actually help the district's desegregation efforts. The plan approved by the school board on Thursday in most cases keeps the same level of integration or brings schools closer to integration.

The district also is tasked with ensuring that students have opportunities to learn that are outstanding across the district, Pedicone said Friday, and consolidation provides for that.

"Through these decisions, we can have better programs, more resources that target achievement in schools that are consolidated that I couldn't have in small schools that are undersubscribed," Pedicone said.

The board is trying to close a $17 million budget gap, but has more cost-cutting ahead. The school closings will only pare spending by about $4 million, leaving about $13 million more to cut.

Those reductions will be ironed out in the new year and also require board approval.

"We'll review many options, including reductions in central administration, general administration, explore outsourcing essential functions, reducing benefits costs, modifying staffing standards and so on."

Discussions have already begun on how to help children, families and staff members through the closure process.

Most teachers at the 11 schools will move with students or be placed in other schools, while principals who lost their schools will be able to apply for open positions.

Support staff may be the hardest hit, but they too will be able to apply for any openings.

"We've had multiple conversations about the importance of working together to lend a spirit of hope to what's going to be happening," Pedicone said.

He acknowledged concerns over whether parents will remove their children from the district as a result of the closures.

When TUSD closed nine schools two years ago, it lost approximately 100 students.

"This community has got to believe that we can stabilize this activity and get to the point where we can begin to spend our energy focusing on how we can lift achievement in spite of all the things that have happened over the past couple of years," Pedicone said.

The board considered closing 14 schools, but only went ahead with closing five elementary, one K-8 campus, four middle schools and one high school.

Tucson Unified, which has about 100 schools, has 13,000 empty seats throughout the district -- the equivalent of 26 empty elementary schools.

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