Tempe Elementary School district's governing board wants to keep educational programs in three campuses that were closed as neighborhood schools last spring.
The governing board gave that direction to district leaders Wednesday night during a public meeting. The directive came after the district sought community input on specific ideas for McKemy Middle School and Meyer and Bustoz elementary school sites. The public call for ideas did not result in any viable projects, prompting the district to start anew at determining what can go into those sites.
"They were unanimous in asking me to work with the district leadership team and the principals to include some future planning for our three closed buildings," Superintendent Chris Busch told the Tribune on Thursday.
It could mean the district opens its own programs on the campuses in years to come, she said. The district will look at comments from parents and why students have left Tempe Elementary in recent years to identify options, she said. The same process was used when the district opened Ward Traditional School and created a kindergarten-through-eighth grade model at Laird School.
The district and a community committee recommended closing the schools - and the governing board agreed - because of declining enrollment and dollars in the campus. Tempe followed other East Valley districts - including Apache Junction and Mesa - in closing schools in recent years.
Just last week, the Mesa Unified School District governing board voted to close and demolish Mesa Junior High School and close Brimhall Junior High School as a neighborhood campus. The district will move students from three back-to-basics campuses now located in portable classrooms to the Brimhall site in fall 2012.
Neighboring Chandler Unified School District is transitioning Erie Elementary School into the Arizona College Preparatory-Erie site. Remodeling on that campus has already begun. Kyrene Elementary School District recently announced plans to take a neighborhood campus and turn it into a back-to-basics focused school.
Districts are taking these steps as they try to manage fewer dollars from the state and compete for students with each other and the ever-growing charter school movement in Arizona.
In Tempe Elementary, it could mean creating a school with a fine arts focus, or college preparatory focus, Busch said.
"The board is pleased with the path of the organization to continue to look for uses for these facilities," said governing board president Jim Lemmon.
So far, only Tempe's Meyer Elementary School has a tenant in place. The group - IEEE (formally known as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional technical society) - is trying to put together funding to take up long-term, or even permanent residence at the site, Busch said.
"It's really exciting to have something like this ... It serves the entire community of students," Lemmon said.
IEEE fulfills the governing board's goal because it offers engineering and science classes to students across the Valley.
"We plan on doing some surveying of the community, but we do know from the forums on school closures that parents want something vital in those schools. They want something that will benefit the community in some way," Busch said. "They don't want to lose property value. They want to make sure the schools - regardless of whether it's traditional or not - are a vibrant part of the community and that they're well cared for and maintained."
Lemmon said neighbors of the closed campuses will be kept informed on the process.
"There are lots of initiatives out there that are educational opportunities. Some of those could be implemented in existing operating schools or as a standalone facility," he said.
Lemmon said the board asked the district to at least provide a quarterly report of progress, with updates as they see fit, on proposals for the three sites.
Enrollment this year appears to be more stable than expected, Busch said. Though Tempe Elementary - and many surrounding districts - expected lower enrollment, there were about 60 more students than last year when classes began in August, Busch said. That number continues to be "fluid," down now that school is nearing the end of the semester, she said. A better indication will come in January when the district turns in its reported 100-day enrollment to the state, the number funding is typically based on.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune