A loud and energetic crowd spoke out Tuesday night, mostly against recommendations to close Mesa’s Brimhall Junior High School and merge three Franklin schools onto that campus.
More than 350 community members, parents, students and their siblings attended the public hearing, the second held since the district announced proposals to demolish Mesa Junior High School and convert Brimhall into a back-to-basics campus for grades kindergarten through eight. That would happen through the merger of Franklin South, Franklin Northeast and Franklin Junior High – currently housed in portable campuses – at the Brimhall site.
The plans were announced last month as ways to address declining enrollment and budget in the Mesa Unified School District. In the last few years, the district has lost 9,000 students. It has also lost more than $122 million from enrollment decline and state cuts to education.
The district has taken a number of steps to address these issues, such as closing seven education sites including Powell Junior High School, creating a Franklin at Alma School and an International Baccalaureate program with Summit Academy, and moving ninth-graders to the high schools. With the move of the ninth-graders to the high schools, the district has excess capacity as its junior high schools, prompting the district recommendations.
A majority of the comments Tuesday night were against closing Brimhall, which currently has the lowest enrollment of any junior high school in the district.
Parents of current Brimhall students said they would consider driving to schools in the Gilbert Unified School District, which is just a few miles south of the Brimhall campus, rather than have their children bused to other Mesa schools.
Parents of students at Franklin Northeast and Franklin Junior High, currently located in northeast Mesa, said they have issues with the amount of time students would sit on buses and the number of students who would be at Brimhall with the proposed merger.
“I know you are trying to save money, but you will be breaking the spirit of the seventh-grade class,” said Austin O’Meara, a member of Brimhall Junior High School’s student government. “Though we have been here short amount of time, we have come to love the teacher and education of the school. ... We love our school.”
Larry Johnson, an instructor at Brimhall, spoke about the school’s service learning program, court program and community spirit.
“You should be so excited about that that you want more students here to know it and to experience it and to know what a value education is about,” Johnson said to the cheers of the crowd.
Many speakers pointed out that by closing Mesa and Brimhall junior high schools, there will only be two junior highs left south of Main Street, with seven junior high schools north of there. One parent presented an alternative plan to close Fremont Junior High School, saying it would save the district more money than closing Brimhall.
Kurt Fisher, who has seven children in the district, said closing Brimhall would create a void in the area.
“It’s obvious Brimhall Junior High School is an excellent junior high school. And the only red mark on the board was a lack of students. I think our efforts should be to increase the population of Brimhall Junior High.”
Joni Walker, parent of a Brimhall student, said that although the teachers have been told they would retain jobs, existing “teams” of teachers would be broken up by the school’s closure.
“You’re going to split these teams up,” she said. “There are other options. There are other schools that are older that cost more to keep up. There’s nothing wrong with Brimhall.”
Laura Jones, a Franklin parent, pointed to the educational success of Franklin schools, as well as the relationships between the parents and teachers. If the recommendations are approved, she said she would be excited about the art, science labs and auditorium available for the Franklin students.
A handful of Mesa Junior High supporters also spoke out against the plan to close the campus. The district is working with the city to come up with a possible community use for the site should the school be closed.
The governing board will discuss the proposals again at the Nov. 8 meeting, with a possible vote that night. For more information, see www.mpsaz.org/future
Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune