Mesa Unified School District leaders will list the junior high schools they believe should be closed or "repurposed" next school year during a public meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The recommendations will be presented to the district's governing board, which will then decide whether to move forward with those ideas, alter them or look at other options. If the board decides to move forward with any ideas that would close a school or change how it's used, public hearings will be held, as early as October.
It's the second time in three years that a school closure is being considered. In 2009, the board voted to close Powell Junior High School and several smaller school sites, as well move the ninth-graders to the high schools.
In the last few years, the district has seen drastic declines in enrollment, from 74,000 students at the start of the 2005 school year to about 64,000 this year.
"As the governing board directed the administration to move ninth-graders to the high schools, they recognized there would be excess capacity at the junior highs. Looking at the elementaries and the junior highs, there is a more substantial excess at the junior high level," Superintendent Mike Cowan said this week. "We'll look there first and make recommendations and in subsequent years we'll look at the elementary and administration buildings."
The district's 12 junior high schools have capacity to hold 13,759 students in the brick-and-mortar portions of the campuses (not including portables). But there are only 9,406 students this year. Summit Academy, the district's new program on the former Hendrix Junior High and Frost Elementary school campuses, has the smallest number of junior high students: 502. Rhodes Junior High School has the highest: 963.
For the past few months, district officials have looked at everything, including what's in a classroom - from seats to storage - to how classrooms are being used. Special education programs require more space than mainstream classrooms. The same is true for specialized programs like science. With that information, the district determined capacity at the 12 junior highs ranges from 1,037 students to 1,307 students.
The district has also analyzed electrical use at each campus and how many repairs are needed on each campus. The smallest figure is at Smith Junior High School: $775,000. The largest figure is at Rhodes: $7.3 million.
The governing board asked the district to come up with not only a list of schools that could be closed, but ways to use campuses differently, such as adding to programs the community wants. If a campus may be closed, the board will also hear ways it could be used.
"The board has stressed in the past, ‘Don't just come to us with a school closure plan. Help us know what's going to happen to that building. Our community needs to know that,'" district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss said. "We don't want to leave the impression there will be boarded up buildings in their neighborhood."
Governing board president Steve Peterson said last week there was discussion in the past two years about moving sixth-graders to the junior highs, but the community has not supported or wanted that to take place, so it's not being considered right now.
What Tuesday will provide are the initial recommendations on "how to right-size the district," he said.
"They've looked at the age of the buildings, cost to maintain buildings, utility costs, future potential costs of maintaining buildings, enrollment now, enrollment patterns at a particular school, as well as throughout the district," he said. "We know we have excess capacity."
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune