Commission brainstorms alternatives to unification - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Education

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Commission brainstorms alternatives to unification

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Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2007 11:00 pm

About 45 concerned residents showed up Tuesday for the first citizens' advisory committee meeting called to influence the ongoing school district redistricting process affecting the Kyrene, Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union High school districts. The Parent and Community Leader Unification Commission, as it's being called, is moderated by Dick Foreman, a Tempe resident and community activist who served on the Tempe Union High School Governing Board in 1992 and from 1994 to 2001. The goal of the group is to come up with an alternative to the two unification plans submitted to school boards by a state commission. "I thought it would be a good idea to see how many folks in the community wanted to see what was going on with the School District Redistricting Commission," Foreman said, referring to the legislatively created SDRC in charge of drawing up and putting on a November 2008 ballot plans to unify high school districts and non-unified elementary districts. The options The two SDRC plans submitted last month to local school boards include the three-into-one plan and the three-into-two plan (see sidebar). Commission Chairman Martin Shultz was on-hand for the first 45 minutes, answering questions about the pros of unification. He cited optimal district size, improved curriculum alignment from kindergarten through 12th grade and cost savings as the primary impetuses for unifying. Shultz argued that as districts get larger in size they become more efficient, citing a 6,000-student minimum for a district before savings are realized. That number comes from a Syracuse University study, which also says that a district with 30,000 or more students is no longer cost-efficient. When the SDRC first started meeting last year they would often say that optimal district size was between 6,000 and 30,000, but have recently abandoned the maximum figure. "We stuck with 6,000 and did an economic analysis on it and validated that 6,000 was the minimum population needed to lower costs," Shultz said after the meeting. "We determined that 30,000 wasn't the limit, and got to a general figure of 100,000 as too large for Arizona." By comparison, Arizona's largest school district is the Mesa Unified district with nearly 73,000 students. Tucson Unified is second with around 60,000. Kyrene and Tempe Union have about 17,000 and 13,500 respectively. Shultz also said unifying districts would end Arizona's "discriminatory" teacher pay practices. Current formulas determining teacher pay weigh union high school teachers higher, meaning they earn more money than their elementary and middle school counterparts. State law bars intra-district discrepancies, but some district officials fear unifying would mean a salary freeze on high school teachers while elementary and middle school teachers' salaries caught up. The next step After the question-and-answer session with Shultz wrapped up, the group set a tentative list of core principles the group would follow as it prepares to come up with an alternate plan to the SDRC's two submitted proposals. The list will be refined at the next meeting, and plan ideas will subsequently start coming together. During an around-the-room introductory moment, the assembled showed varied representation. Fifteen said they were concerned with the process' effect on Ahwatukee Foothills or Kyrene schools, 22 identified themselves as concerned with how the process would affect Tempe schools, three said they were concerned for both Kyrene and Tempe schools and three didn't say one way or the other. "I'm a Mountain Pointe parent, and I'm here to make sure Ahwatukee is remembered in this process," said one unidentified parent. In addition to the concerned citizens, two Kyrene, three Tempe Union and zero Tempe Elementary board members attended Tuesday's meeting. The two boards' respective Ahwatukee Foothills members, Don Keuth and Rae Waters, were both present. The Parent and Community Leader Unification Commission will meet every Tuesday at the South Tempe Police Department Substation, 8201 S. Hardy Drive. Next week's meeting will be held from 3 to 5 p.m., with all future meetings being held from 7 to 9 p.m. Jason Ludwig can be reached at (480) 898-7916 or jludwig@aztrib.com.

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