The Tucson Unified School District is facing a $17 million deficit next school year, and the district’s governing board has proposed closing 11 schools.
That could leave teachers, principals and support staff out of work.
On the closure list is Schumaker Elementary School, where Julie Laird is principal. She is preparing for the closure, although the future of Schumaker and the other schools is up to a federal judge overseeing a decades-long desegregation case.
“I knew there needed to be cuts when we found out about the deficit but I didn’t really expect us to be on the list,” Laird said. “Initially there was a lot of sadness because every school is the cornerstone of the community, and everybody looks at the school as a special place.”
Schumaker's 400 students will be divided between Henry and Bloom elementary schools next school year if the school closes and depending on open enrollment and changes in attendance boundaries.
Laird has been meeting with parents and her staff to talk about what will happen to Schumaker and its students. She is planning field trips to the two receiving schools and is setting up pen pals to make the transition less painful on the young kids, she said.
The issues behind the closure are adult issues, Laird said, and most 7-year-olds can’t understand them.
“I have had several kids come up to me and say, ‘Why are you closing Schumaker?’ and that breaks my heart,” she said. “I have to say to them I’m not choosing to close Schumaker, and it’s not closing because it’s not a wonderful school. We know that this is a wonderful school.”
In addition to Schumaker, schools on the closure list are Howenstine High, Carson Middle, Corbett Elementary, Cragin Elementary, Fort Lowell/Townsend K-8, Hohokam Middle, Maxwell Middle, Menlo Park Elementary, Brichta Elementary, Lyons Elementary and Wakefield Middle.
U.S. District Judge David Bury is expected to make a decision soon on the closures. The district is under a federal mandate to provide racial balance, and shutting down schools could affect that, according to parties in the initial desegregation case from 1974.
To handle the closures, TUSD has created a team to oversee the transition, said John Pedicone, the school district’s superintendent. The team is making sure the schools that are closing and the schools that are receiving students are prepared for the closures, he said.
Principals at receiving schools do not have to compete for their jobs, but all principals are on one-year contracts, so Laird said she must wait to see how many principals retire or depart TUSD in May. Teachers will fill out surveys with their qualifications and preferred schools and the district will consider those as teacher positions open up, she said.
It could cost TUSD $20,000 to $35,000 to close and secure each school, Pedicone said. The district is going to leave all alarm systems in place and hire 24-hour security staff for each empty building.
Governing board members voted last week to approve $10 million in cuts on top of the $4 million in projected savings form the school closures. The board approved cuts to central administration, all-day kindergarten, health insurance coverage and assistant principals, among other positions.