McKemy Middle School will close at the end of the school year and four elementary schools will merge into two, the Tempe Elementary School District governing board decided late Wednesday night.

More than 200 parents and district staff members watched the discussions before the 5-0 votes in the boardroom and an overflow room in the district office.

With the decision, McKemy, which opened in 1958, will close and Bustoz Elementary School will merge into Fuller Elementary School while Meyer Elementary will merge into Hudson Elementary School.

The decisions came after hundreds of parents rallied behind the schools during the last few months during several public hearings and forums.

Tempe Elementary School District has more than 2,000 empty seats as enrollment has declined the last few years - including a loss of nearly 1,400 students the past five. The student losses also mean dollar losses since public schools in Arizona are funded by the state based on enrollment figures.

In addition, as the state has seen drastic loss of revenue the past few years, lawmakers have cut education funding, a major component of spending in the state.

The district formed a 14-member committee of community and staff members to prepare budget reduction options late last fall. The closing and merging of the schools ranked in the top three choices of the committee.

The district plans to move staff from McKemy, Bustoz and Meyer to remaining campuses.

In addition to agreeing to close and merge schools, which will save the district about $2.3 million, the board made further budget reductions and changes.

Tempe Elementary needs to cut between $3.4 million and $3.9 million next school year. The board, should the district need to cut the lesser amount, the board voted to give more money for all staff in the form of a stipend. A final budget for the 2011-12 school year will be adopted before the end of June.

This is the second time in the past few years the district’s board has closed a school. Evans Elementary School was closed beginning with the 2009-10 school year. A few months later Evans was leased to the Tempe Union High School District and a preschool.

More work is ahead for the district to find uses for McKemy, Bustoz and Meyer.

“Now that the board has made their decision, we will begin discussions on how we will proceed with the merged or repurposed facilities,” district spokeswoman Monica Allread said.

Rhonda Steele, who led Save McKemy efforts at meetings and online, said she was disappointed, but not surprised, at the decision and is concerned for the future of the school that sits just two blocks from her home.

“The biggest casualty is the community. The district, by doing this this way, has alienated the trust,” she said. “They’ve eliminated the possibility that it can work together with the community to make something good happen.”

Steele also expressed concern that the board didn’t adopt any budget saving ideas presented by community members.

Board member Rochelle Wells, in expressing her support for closing McKemy, said she is concerned about not just next year, but a potential funding deficit the following year.

“We have to make sure the items on our list take us through more than next year,” Wells said. “I feel if we don’t repurpose the schools and merge them we won’t take our district into the future.”

Lisa Jones, a parent of students at Broadmor Elementary and McKemy Middle schools, said she is concerned the district will continue to lose students because of the school closures.

“(Parents) will take their elementary school kids and they’re going to leave,” she said, adding parents may enroll in charter schools, private schools or neighboring school districts.

In addition to the school closing and merges, the board approved:

• A 5 percent cut for all departments.

• Increasing class size for grades kindergarten through three by two students.

• Making the New Year’s Day holiday unpaid for staff members with 12-month contracts.

• Offering band, orchestra or choir to fifth graders (no general music class option).

• Adding educational increments, which gives teachers additional salary for completing coursework.

• Changing stipends awarded to teachers who receive National Board Certification.

• Adding an additional class section to middle school teachers’ loads (removing one of two prep periods).

• Holding elementary school music festivals outside the school day.

• Giving all staff a 1 percent stipend.

The district currently employs 1,722 people. About 900 are certified staff members, including teachers, school counselors and psychologists.

Salaries have been frozen the past two years at the 2008-09 level, while mandatory state retirement contributions have continued to increase.

During Wednesday night’s discussions, the governing board expressed concern about staff compensation.

“In many, many cases their take-home pay is down from the ’08-09 level,” Allread said Thursday.

In fact, salaries for many teachers around the East Valley will remain frozen for next year, as they have for the past two years.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

(4) comments

rewine

RLS-"YOUR" effort...exactly! The community is GLAD you 4 LEFT OUR district! GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Meet up again at your "C" school...

wasabitobiko

What's most disturbing it the fact that school administrators seem to have their heads buried up their collective a$$es when it comes to the correlation between music, math and science. I'm not talking specifically about AZ admins but throughout the U.S. EU schools systems, specifically the Czech republic are getting it right by requiring students compose a piece of music during their elementary school years. Extensive study has been done showing proficiency in music as it relates to math and science in comprehension and application during later years in school and university.

This country is going to hell in a handbasket.

RLS_13

Shame on you for assuming that parent's choice is an easy, rather than heartbreaking one. What's your stake in all this?

You wonder if "all the energy used over the last few months will continue and be applied to finding ways to make the TD3 more appealing." I imagine the schools that remain open will reflect the energy level they, and their respective parents, teachers, admins, and students put into this fight to help the district be forward thinking. So the answer is "Of course."

I assume that your comment is meant not only as a criticism, but a challenge, and it's one I hope you're ready to lead by example. So I'm sending it back.

If you have been part of the effort to help this district think about what might, long-term, be useful, and you've not just been a bystander and critic, then kudos to you, and the district can at least look forward to your efforts. It always starts with one.

In fact, this community effort started with just four people. The neighborhoods in Tempe rally for their school. ALL of them do. I imagine you do, too. Otherwise you wouldn't be throwing stones at those whose cynicism has been cemented by a flawed process and, according to all the information I've seen, an unfortunate and poorly thought-out decision with potentially huge negative impact.

The whole process, as executed, was brilliant if the goal was to divide a community, and demonstrate the lack of role the public has in public schools. While I get it, and it's understandably expedient from an admin. perspective, I can't admire it. Military and corporate mindsets are a poor fit to the purpose and spirit of public school. What's worse, both paradigms tend to be risk averse, and so decisions driven by a fear-based, closed, top-down paradigm undercut even the potential for critical and creative thinking (so needed during economically challenging times) and weaken the possibility of collaboration/support from an informed, engaged citizenry--some of whom, at least, believe the best about public schools because they were products of them.

One final series of questions for you, rooted in "is the glass half empty or half full?"

What do you currently do for your public school district--and is TD3 where you send your kids?

Did you participate in this process, or any like it (or leading up to it), or contribute to the community conversation something other than your "shame on you" comment about the quoted parent?

Did you--and do you--ask questions about processes and their respective impact(s), with a motive of improving things for everyone, and/or in this case, helping a district be more transparent, and attractive to its stakeholders?

Did you participate in the district decisionmaking processes (or get invited to)?

How did you, or do you, continuously work to understand the priorities of teachers, parents, students and others to come up with alternative viewpoints?

How do you--and how will you continue to--proactively make YOUR school, or better, the district, be better, stronger, or more forward thinking?

Billw94

What struck me in this article was a parent will now take their kids maybe out of TD3 and move to a charter or other district. You don't get the results in tough vote and so pick my toys and go home attitude, really? Shame on you.

I wonder if all the energy used over the past few months will continue and be applied to finding ways to make TD3 more appealing.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.