Mesa school leaders explore district overhaul - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa school leaders explore district overhaul

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Friday, July 24, 2009 3:39 pm | Updated: 1:30 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Mesa Unified School District leaders and board members took the first step Friday to possibly changing grade levels at some schools, closing other schools, and re-creating how the district offers alternative programs for students with attendance or behavior problems.

Mesa school board approves $634M budget

Mesa district faces makeover, official says

Mesa schools are on the verge of an overhaul.

Mesa Unified School District leaders and board members took the first step Friday to possibly changing grade levels at some schools, closing other schools, and re-creating how the district offers alternative programs for students with attendance or behavior problems.

Mesa school board approves $634M budget

Mesa district faces makeover, official says

 

"The need for us to wrestle with these topics has been building for several years," Superintendent Mike Cowan said. "Why present it all at once? Why not?"

Cowan took over as superintendent on July 1, following the retirement of Superintendent Debra Duvall. Cowan's promotion, along with the retirement of Assistant Superintendent Ken Salas, has brought several new faces to the district's leadership team.

A multitude of ideas was presented Friday to the district's elected five-member governing board because of the challenges facing the district.

"The economy, the change in leadership, the budget, student achievement, changes needed in practices move Mesa to a crossroad that requires us to consider multiple changes simultaneously," Cowan said.

Enrollment in the state's largest district continues to decline. Since the 2004-05 school year, including projections for the upcoming school year, more than 7,400 students have dropped off the district's rolls.

The state's floundering economy - which provides the bulk of the operations funding for the Mesa district - means tens of millions of dollars are also gone.

And the picture doesn't get any better in the near future, Cowan told the board and school leadership.

"The $60 million cut in the last two years is not as substantial as what we'll be facing as we go into the 2010-11 school year," he said.

Cowan told the Tribune just last May that the district would have to wrestle with closing schools.

As early as next month, the district will form a School Consolidation Task Force to look at the possibility, Cowan said.

"This is a conversation, not a decision by any means," Cowan said. "There is not a preset contention (that) we will automatically close a campus."

The last time the district explored the idea of closing a school, the community behind Jordan Elementary School felt it was blindsided and in the end, the school remained open.

This time will be different, Cowan said.

"If we indeed ID schools to close, we will be very communicative on data, how to use the facility and a transportation plan," Cowan said.

Board president Michael Hughes said it's imperative the district also show "significant savings that would warrant closing a school."

Cowan concurred, adding that the district will include the financials about how much it would cost to close a school and the possible savings and a timeline about how long it would take to reap that benefit.

He presented a step-by-step handbook on how the task force will look at all measures of data, including the cost to bus the students of a closed school to other facilities, the age and maintenance needs at existing facilities, and the impact in the neighborhood.

"I believe the community will support us if we make good decisions that will make sense for the city," said board member Steve Peterson.

No particular school is targeted for closing, Cowan said. He presented enrollment data from around the district that included the drastically declining numbers in the schools around Dobson High School on the city's southwest side. But there are pockets of decline all over the district.

"This is not a recommendation," to make changes to that particular area, Cowan said. "The depth of the analysis is like nothing we've ever done."

Another step that could address the enrollment patterns, as well as one difference between Mesa and surrounding school districts, is to change grade levels at some schools. Mesa's high schools are now 10th through 12th grade; neighboring districts put ninth through 12th in one school. Mesa's junior highs hold seventh, eighth and ninth grades, while elementary schools hold kindergarten through sixth grades.

Cowan presented the possibility of shifting freshmen, or ninth-graders, from junior highs to high schools and then moving sixth-graders to junior high schools.

Hughes expressed excitement for this plan.

"We have the options with the economy and all things pressing against us to take a look. I think this is a real positive for the district," he said.

Assistant Superintendent Suzan DePrez said by opening the discussion to change school grade levels, there are a number of ways the district could go, from creating kindergarten through eighth-grade campuses to creating kindergarten through third-grade campuses or a ninth-grade academy.

The board members were enthusiastic about the possibilities for change.

"All things are on the table," Hughes said.

"Mesa public schools has to evolve and express that evolution in the time frame to the community," said board member Mike Nichols. "We really are at crossroads in that the budget, the leadership, demographics, immigration law" are all having an impact at this time.

Hughes said he would like to "fast track" any decision-making, especially if a school may be closed.

"Let's try to have this decided no later than November, December, so the community has this for next school year," he said. 

  • Discuss

Attorney General Forum - Question 1

Attorney General candidates Republican Mark Brnovich and Democrat Felecia Rotellini debate at ...

Facebook

EastValleyTribune.com on Facebook

Twitter

EastValleyTribune.com on Twitter

Google+

EastValleyTribune.com on Google+

RSS

Subscribe to EastValleyTribune.com via RSS

RSS Feeds

Spacer4px
Your Az Jobs