Mesa school board members will spend Tuesday evening in a huddle asking questions of administrators and considering districtwide proposed changes for next school year. The key discussion may revolve around the Mesa Unified School District’s proposal to move ninth-graders to three high schools next year and the other three comprehensive high schools the following year.
Mesa school board members will spend Tuesday evening in a huddle asking questions of administrators and considering districtwide proposed changes for next school year.
The key discussion may revolve around the Mesa Unified School District's proposal to move ninth-graders to three high schools next year and the other three comprehensive high schools the following year.
In late summer, Superintendent Mike Cowan convened a committee to explore possible changes for the 67,000-student district in light of declining enrollment and a decreasing budget.
The result: Eight proposals that include moving programs, closing programs and inventing new programs to address the growing competition for students in the East Valley.
One of those proposals - closing Guerrero Elementary School in west Mesa and using the campus as an "achievement center" - was taken off the list by administrators late last month.
Of the other seven suggestions, the idea of moving ninth-graders to the current 10th-through-12th-grade high schools has received a lot of talk from the community.
While most e-mails and statements at public hearings seem to support the idea, there has been a growing number from the community who want the district to make the change en masse, rather than in phases.
Under the current proposal, the district would move ninth-graders to Skyline, Westwood and Dobson high schools in the 2010-11 school year. The transition would happen the following school year for Red Mountain, Mountain View and Mesa high schools.
The district said it needs the transition to happen in two steps for a number of reasons. First, the district wants to analyze how the move goes to see if it can be done better the second time. And second - and perhaps most pressing - is because the first set of high schools have more space available than the second set.
Exceptions that first year could be offered to some students who currently attend junior highs that feed into more than one high school.
But all this needs to be discussed by the five-member elected governing board and to avoid open-meeting laws, they need to discuss this in a study session format, board president Mike Hughes said.
That said, the board elected last week to put yet another meeting on its calendar prior to the last planned public hearing, set to take place on Jan. 12, the same day they hope to vote.
"We want to have discussions and questions amongst ourselves and see where each person is at: what their thoughts are, what questions they have of the administration, what dialogue we can have back and forth between one another," Hughes said Monday. "We haven't had a chance to do that. Now that we've had the input from the community it gives us a chance to talk amongst ourselves."
Hughes and fellow veteran board member Dave Lane agree there needs to be more discussion on the transition of the high schools. And while there are some in the community who want it to be a one-year transition, rather than a two-year, both said they're not sure the administration can wait 18 months to do that.
"I say let's move forward and let the people know we're doing this and give the district the opportunity to work out the challenges," Hughes said.
"In my mind I'm hearing a big push to do the whole ninth-grade piece at one time," Lane said. "I'm not sure if that's feasible to do all at one time, but I think overwhelmingly we have support that (the transition) needs to happen."
Delaying the transition and making it all happen at one time - during the 2011-12 school year - is "uncomfortable," Lane said.
"Because of our situation in the state with our deficit, last special session they pulled back from this year's (funding) ... approximately $11 million. I fully expect that number will grow in January, in February and in March as they struggle to balance the budget for this fiscal year. ... I don't think we can afford to wait on any piece of these restructurings and in all probability we'll have to undertake further restructuring in the next year over and above what we've already talked about."
The only potential element of a "phase two" restructuring that has been presented by the administration has been the ninth-grade transition. District leaders have said they don't want to throw out any new ideas until the governing board approves any changes for next school year and they have a better grasp on what the district's budget may look like.
Lawmakers are set to meet this week to discuss the current budget year, but it is not anticipated that education spending will be part of this week's talks.
The next regular session begins in January.
Unlike board meetings and public hearings, the public is not typically invited to speak during a governing board study session.