TUSD crowd spotlight

Photo: Fernanda Echavarri

The audience at Catalina High Magnet School, where TUSD Board heard pleas to keep schools open.

The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board has voted to begin proceedings for closure of eight schools next year to help reduce a $17 million deficit.

The vote Tuesday night came in the face of emotional pleas from parents, teachers and students to keep their schools open.

Listen to some of their comments here:

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The board ordered closure proceedings begun at Hohokam and Carson middle schools, Howenstine High Magnet School and at five elementary schools: Schumaker, Fort Lowell-Townsend, Corbett, Lyons and Sewell.

Fort Lowell was one of nine schools TUSD closed two years ago and students were moved to Townsend. Now Fort Lowell-Townsend is on the list of likely closures. Board President Miguel Cuevas said he could not vote to close down this school because this would be the third school in three years for many kids, "and I just can't do that," he said.

Some of the votes to close schools were unanimous others came down to a 3-2 vote. The only school on the list of 15 that the board voted to keep open was Warren Elementary School. Alexander Sugiyama was the only board member who voted "yes" for the closure of every school on the list.

Other schools still may be added to the list. The board agreed to consider the future of Pueblo Gardens, Hollinger, Cragin, Brichta and Menlo Park elementary schools next week.

Some of the schools on the list of closures are specialty schools or have programs that are not offered anywhere else. Hollinger is a technology-based school with an emphasis in environmental issues and parents told the board that their kids could not find those programs elsewhere.

abraham portrait

Photo: Fernanda Echavarri

Abraham Aguirre, a student at Hollinger Elementary School, asks the board to leave his school open.

“I like many things about Hollinger, like computer lab, mariachi and library and the GATE program,” said 9-year-old Abraham Aguirre. “I want to save my school, I love Hollinger!”

The only high school on the list, Howenstine, has a therapeutic swimming pool where autistic student and other kids with special needs receive therapy and swimming lessons. Mark Stegeman, TUSD board member wants to try and keep that pool open despite the school building being closed.

By law, closures cannot occur until the board holds public meetings and hears from those affected. Meetings have been scheduled for Dec. 8 and 10.

Hundreds packed the auditorium at Catalina High Magnet School. About 50 people addressed the board in efforts to keep their schools off the list.

Listen to the news story here:

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TUSD officials have said closing 10 schools will save the district $5 million next school year, when the $17 million deficit is anticipated. To meet the rest of the expected deficit, the district is considering cuts to kindergarten, administrative positions and special education programs.

Superintendent John Pedicone said last week the deficit comes because of state legislative budget cuts in the last several years, leading the district to use all of its reserves and federal stimulus money.

Although the state now has a surplus, officials have said there likely won’t be money added to education because of a revenue slowdown.

TUSD and other schools had hoped for extension of the one-cent sales tax in the election two weeks ago, but voters rejected it by a nearly two-to-one margin.

The final decision on which schools TUSD will close is expected December 20.

tusd girls closure spotlight

Photo: Fernanda Echavarri

Aileen Ortiz, 5, and Jaquelin Ortiz, 9.