The parent committee set up to propose input on recent unification efforts affecting local school districts has reached a conclusion: it will support the three-into-one plan. In an e-mail to School District Redistricting Commission (SDRC) chairman Martin Schultz, committee founder and facilitator Dick Foreman shared his 12-page report on the committee's discussions, which first met at the beginning of June. "At the end of the day, significant educational drivers and concepts caused the three-to-one model to prevail," Foreman wrote in his report. The report cited declining enrollment in all three affected districts - the Kyrene Elementary, Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union High school districts - as being "one of the more persuasive factors" in the decision. "There is a concern with being too big, but existing studies on school district size are clearly ambiguous as relates to student achievement," the report reads, going on to declare that new schools will likely be built on the Gila River Indian Community and the city of Maricopa would get priority over new local schools. It added, "The build-out of the Ahwatukee Foothills community is also nearing while new, high-rise development in north Tempe does not anticipate adding large numbers of new students. Potentially, all three existing districts are heading for a slow but methodical and continuous decline in both funding and student count." The report also lauded the three-into-one plan's curriculum alignment, budgetary flexibility and inclusiveness. Some Ahwatukee Foothills residents, however, were less than impressed with the committee's conclusions. "One area of concern ... lies in the fact that less than a handful of (Ahwatukee) community members participated in the project, while the proposal put forth will directly affect close to half the students in KSD," wrote Patti Benster, a teacher at Ninos Elementary in the Kyrene School District. "Seems a little lopsided and certainly not representative of this same community." According to those in attendance, while the committee meetings started out with a good mix of participants from each of the three districts, by the end the meetings were stacked with parents who were intent on defeating any three-into-two proposal. The plan most intensely considered by the committee was a modified version of the SDRC's three-into-two plan, with the dividing line moved from Guadalupe Road to Warner Road. That plan was vehemently opposed, said some Foothills residents, by parents from the Corona del Sol High School area who worried that a three-into-two plan with a Warner Road division would shift them to nearby Marcos de Niza High School. In the end, the Foothills parents supported the three-into-one plan largely to see it defeated. "There were several reasons why people voted for the 3- 1 plan, other than because they support it, and one of those included believing it will be the easiest plan to beat in November '08," said Ahwatukee Foothills resident Jeri Goldstein. There is a good amount of logic behind predicting the three-into-one plan would be defeated if the SDRC decided to place it on the ballot. All three affected school boards oppose the plan, and have until Sept. 15 to formally do so. Likewise, efforts to unify the districts have been defeated numerous times in the past by a skeptical public. The SDRC's next meeting will be held in October, when the formal responses from districts across Arizona will be presented. A single unification plan will be sent to the governor by Dec. 31 and will appear on the November 2008 ballot. Jason Ludwig can be reached at (480) 898-7916 or jludwig@aztrib.com.

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