After six public forums, a public hearing and governing board meetings, the Tempe Elementary School District's elected leaders may vote Wednesday, April 27 on recommendations to close and merge schools for next year.
The recommendations came earlier this year from a staff and community committee to help address budget and enrollment issues. The district has more than 2,000 empty classroom seats and needs to trim about $4 million from its budget next school year.
Two recommendations high on the list are closing Bustoz and Meyer elementary schools and merging them with Fuller and Hudson elementary schools in the fall and closing McKemy Middle School.
Hundreds of parents and staff members attended previous meetings to voice their support or opposition to the budget-reduction plans.
Board president Jim Lemmon said the district has followed the standard format for making big changes like this.
"It's pretty typical from the standpoint of a government organization to say, ‘Hey we have some problems here. What do you think? Here are the proposed solutions,'" he said. "We are trying to make improvements to our organization structure with the budget. They're difficult choices because the resources are diminished both because of the Legislature - times are tough economically in Arizona - and also because of the decline in enrollment."
The district closed Evans Elementary School in 2009.
Board members are limited in what they can say, Lemmon said, during the process the state requires before school-closing decisions can be made.
"For board members, for almost 90 days, we haven't been able to talk about (opinions on) these boundary changes or closing schools. It's frustrating for us. We don't comment about what our thoughts are because we don't want to taint the process," he said.
On Wednesday, it is expected that the board members will each suggest which items from the recommendations they support the most. Common ideas will be voted upon.
The last governing board meeting - just to plan the process for Wednesday's session - took five hours.
Since the school closings are the "big ticket items" on the list, those may be dealt with first before determining other budget recommendations for district leadership, Lemmon said.
Each school merging would save the district about $600,000, according to staff reports. The McKemy closing would save more than $1.1 million.
Should the board agree to close or merge schools and change enrollment boundaries, letters would go out to affected students almost immediately, district spokeswoman Monica Allread said.
The budget reduction recommendations can be found at www.tempeschools.org/budgetplanning.
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