The Mesa school board will decide Tuesday night whether to close Powell Junior High School, add ninth grade to the district’s high schools and make other changes as the Mesa Unified School District grapples with declining enrollment and funding.
Since late fall, the board and community members have been analyzing enrollment data, financial reports, educational trends and proposals by the district’s administration.
On Tuesday night, the proposals are scheduled to be put to a vote by the five-member elected governing board.
There are seven proposals still on the books for consideration — including moving some programs to other sites and creating a community learning center at Powell Junior High School, whose students would be disperse to other schools.
The plan has drawn criticism and praise from the community. Hundreds showed up to the first public hearing on the plans, though a number of them were objecting to one of the original proposals: closing Guerrero Elementary School.
At that same meeting, Superintendent Mike Cowan said a Guerrero closure was no longer being considered.
What’s left to be decided are ideas that leaders hope move the district in a proactive way through a time of uncertainty.
“I think we’ve looked at the proposals, the recommendations and initiatives pretty thoroughly,” board president Mike Hughes said this week. “We’ve had a lot of public input. Some of the things have been modified — for instance, Guerrero. But for the most part, my sense is the recommendations are very sound.”
School board member David Lane agreed.
“I think the community as a whole realizes things can’t go on the way they’ve been going on in light of the budget and in light of our declining enrollment, which will probably continue somewhat,” Lane said.
One misconception Hughes and Lane said they’re still battling is the idea that some of the high schools will have a four-year configuration, but not all of them.
“I think a lot of people had the impression we would do the three high schools this year and revote to do the other high schools the following year,” Lane said. “To me, that’s a major point that needs to be clarified.”
Lane said he expects the board to hear one recommendation that would change three high schools — Dobson, Westwood and Skyline — next school year and the other three — Mesa, Mountain View and Red Mountain — the following school year.
Cowan said that as soon as the vote is complete, district staff will start meeting to move toward the transitions that could take place next school year.
“The district is poised and ready to quickly respond to whatever the governing board decisions are,” Cowan said this week. “If approved, we will continue to move full-steam ahead.”
Cowan last fall asked department leaders to consider any scenarios that might result from the proposed changes.
“I hope the governing board will be supportive of our recommendations,” he said. “I think everyone understands change needs to occur. Enrollment and economy requires something to happen in order for us to right-size our resources.”
Cowan, Hughes and Lane said Tuesday’s vote is just the beginning of changes for the district.
This year, the district saw a nearly 2,000-student drop in enrollment. Cowan said projections show another 1,000-student drop this fall, mostly attributed to families moving away because of Arizona’s bad economy and job situation.
The Legislature opens Monday and still has to figure out the current shortfall in the budget as well as take on an expected $4 billion shortfall in next year’s budget.
And even if there was a “miraculous recovery” to Arizona’s economy this year, it would still be a few years before that would trickle down to the schools, Lane said.
With kindergarten through 12th grade making up 42 percent of the state’s budget, “there are concerns there will be more cuts to education,” Cowan said.