The community can participate Tuesday in the first public hearing about recommendations to close Mesa Junior High School and move students from three Franklin campuses to Brimhall Junior High School next school year.
This week, Superintendent Mike Cowan and Bobette Sylvester, assistant superintendent for business and support services, outlined three proposals to address excess capacity at Mesa Unified School District's 13 junior high campuses. The plans include closing Mesa Junior and "repurposing" Brimhall, as well as selling or decommissioning unneeded portable junior high classrooms districtwide.
The governing board asked the district to come up with the ideas after it moved ninth-graders to the six high schools over the past two years. Unlike surrounding districts, Mesa Unified's high schools formerly held sophomores, juniors and seniors, while freshmen attended the junior highs, along with seventh- and eighth-graders.
Shifting ninth-graders to the high schools and declining district enrollment resulted in about 4,000 empty seats in the junior highs. The Mesa Junior and Brimhall proposals would eliminate about 2,700 of those seats, Sylvester said Tuesday.
Brimhall currently has 666 students, the fewest of all the junior highs. The campus has space for 1,127 students.
Since the buildings are in fairly good shape, one idea district leaders presented this week is to close Brimhall as a neighborhood school and merge Franklin Northeast, Franklin South and Franklin Junior High on the site. Those three campuses are all housed in portable classrooms. One, Franklin South, is adjacent to Brimhall. The plan would send about 1,000 students to Brimhall's campus.
If approved, it would be the second time in four years that the district has taken an existing neighborhood school and converted it into a back-to-basics Franklin campus. The district did the same to Alma Elementary School, beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. The district currently has six Franklin schools, many with waiting lists.
Mesa Junior High, built in 1952, is the oldest junior high school in the district. It is in need of extensive work - a new electrical and heating and cooling system, as well as new insulation. It would cost the district more than $4.5 million just to make those repairs, Sylvester said. The district is proposing demolishing the campus. There has already been a discussion with city officials about turning the site into a public park or recreational sports venue.
Tuesday's hearing will be 6 p.m. at Mesa Junior High, 828 E. Broadway Road. A second hearing will be 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at Brimhall Junior High, 4949 E. Southern Ave. Both hearings will appear live on the district's website, www.mpsaz.org.
The governing board could vote as early as Nov. 8, with the changes taking place in the 2012-2013 school year. The district's boundary committee would have to reassign the two schools' attendance areas. The governing board would also have to vote - possibly at a later time - on those changes.
Next year, the district plans to look at enrollment and capacity issues at the elementary schools. The district has lost nearly 10,000 students over the past eight years. Enrollment this year is just above 64,000 students, compared to 72,000 students at the start of the 2005-2006 school year. In 2009, the governing board closed Powell Junior High School and turned it into an education hub for several smaller district programs. Frost Elementary and Hendrix Junior High were also transformed into Summit Academy.
For more information or to send a comment to the district, visit www.mpsaz.org/future.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune