School closings are among district’s options - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

School closings are among district’s options

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Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008 7:11 pm | Updated: 8:53 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Big financial challenges for Scottsdale’s public schools have brought out options that many parents find upsetting, even intolerable. These include the possibility of closing schools and rearranging attendance boundaries.

Solutions won’t be coming easy, needless to say, because neighborhood schools are a tough thing to talk a parent into giving up.

We understand many, if not most, elementary school students in the Scottsdale Unified School District are driven to class by parents who appreciate short distances and brief travel times and often bought That Particular House to be a few blocks from That Particular School.

And yet nothing, not even a school, is set in cement.

Districts receive a vital chunk of their annual budgets from the state based on the number of students they educate. Scottsdale has posted a slight enrollment decline, about 1 percent, which has been blamed on the higher cost of living here through the rise of expensive condominiums, among other factors.

In a meeting with the Tribune Editorial Board in late January, Superintendent John Baracy predicted a drop of $1.3 million in funding this fall due to the enrollment decline.

Meanwhile, many costs have kept rising, particularly health benefits for district employees, expected to rise 34 percent in 2008-09, Baracy said, amounting to around $3.4 million more. A couple of solutions involving changing coverage could reduce that increase to around only 5 percent.

Throw in some smaller raises and leaving some vacant positions unfilled, he said, and at least that part of the budget could be nearly preserved.

But facilities are another matter entirely, which is why the district is holding a series of public meetings about what it costs to keep them all open and what might need to happen if the district can’t afford to do that. The school board is expected to decide what to do by May.

Proposing school closures and boundary adjustments are drastic ideas.

And while we applaud Baracy for not being afraid to incur plenty of parental push back by doing so, we also advise him and the board to consider that closures are pretty difficult to undo.

Already one benefit to the district from the housing crisis, if it can be called one, is that Scottsdale home prices are becoming more affordable and property owners are also being encouraged by the marketplace to make available more rental housing.

The district also owns non-school property that it might consider selling as well.

We do not recommend a categorical refusal to consider closing schools, but we suggest all options deserve complete consideration before solutions are decided upon.

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