After nearly two months of discussion and public hearings, the Mesa Unified School District governing board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on plans to close Mesa Junior High School and change the educational program at Brimhall Junior High.
The governing board met Friday to ask questions of district leaders about the proposals that could be voted on as soon as Tuesday. Members will meet in a study session for more discussion at 5 p.m. Tuesday at 549 N. Stapley Drive, followed by a 7 p.m. meeting, where they are allowed to vote.
District administrators recommended in September three plans to address declining enrollment in the junior high schools:
• Demolish most of Mesa Junior High School and move those students to other junior highs. The district is in talks with the city about using the site as a recreation or sports facility.
• Close Brimhall Junior High School as a neighborhood school and move Franklin Northeast, Franklin South and Franklin Junior High schools to that site.
• Decommission the district's portable buildings.
For several years, the district has experienced a decline in enrollment that may be tracked back to the economy, changing population, immigration policies and competition among schools. Two years ago, the district closed Powell Junior High School and several other sites to address this issue.
This year, the additional closures are being recommended because of excess capacity in the district. There are about 4,353 empty junior high school seats, including in portable buildings.
The recommendations before the board address excess space, as well as the financial aspect of maintaining the older buildings at Mesa Junior High, district leaders said.
The community had asked the district if some of Mesa Junior's buildings could stay if the campus closed.
"We certainly could, if we were looking at demolishing part of that facility, look to leave the auditorium for meetings, recitals, and rehearsals," Superintendent Mike Cowan said. "The gymnasium could be reserved, especially if - and we don't know the end result yet - if that area were converted to a large-scale community sports complex with lighted fields."
Cowan said he would also advocate keeping as many of the large, mature trees as possible.
Brimhall is being considered for a change because its buildings are in excellent shape, even though enrollment there is the lowest of all the junior highs.
During public hearings, some parents said they did not want to move students from the current, smaller Franklin sites to the larger Brimhall site. Franklin schools offer a back-to-basics education that is popular with parents. All of the Franklin schools currently have waiting lists in at least one grade, district leaders have said.
"These decisions are about people. They are very hard decisions," board member Mike Nichols said during Friday's study session.
There was a proposal brought forth from parents to close Fremont Junior High School instead of Brimhall, but the board members said Friday they did not see that as a viable option.
Should the governing board approve the proposals Tuesday, the district's boundary committee will start looking at where students from Brimhall and Mesa junior highs would likely move to.
Brimhall students may find new homes at Smith, Fremont, Shepherd, and possibly, Taylor, junior highs, the board was told Friday. District officials are still exploring options available for Mesa Junior High students, but said Friday there is room in the west side junior highs.
Cowan said there could be a domino effect when it comes to shifting the boundaries on the west side, which include Stapley, Poston, Kino, Carson and Rhodes junior highs. The district's committee will present a recommendation to the governing board at a future time.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune