The Gilbert district will start anew with the process to close Gilbert Junior High School after questions have been raised about whether or not the district followed state statutes the first time.
The board originally voted 3-1 at a packed meeting Oct. 2 that Gilbert Junior High School would close following the 2013-14 school year.
One board member was not present at the meeting.
Several community members raised concerns about whether or not the district gave required 10-day notification to all those who could be impacted by the closure. In addition, the district did not give prior notice to the state School Facilities Board.
The district presented the idea to close Gilbert Junior High and move the Gilbert Classical Academy to the site. Reasons cited included a need to save funds, declining enrollment at Gilbert Junior and a waiting list at Gilbert Classical Academy.
With three new board members, the five-member board will vote again in about a month. Staci Burk, now board president, was the one vote against the closure in October. Lily Tram was not present at that meeting.
New board members Julie Smith, Jill Humpherys and Daryl Colvin took office this week.
So with a new vote, the board could decide in February to close Gilbert Junior High School in May, following the current school year.
Burk told the Tribune that at the next meeting, Jan. 22, the board will formally ask the School Facilities Board permission to close the school, as per state statue, because it would lessen the per pupil square footage for junior high schools.
“We’re doing this process right this time,” Burk said. “We anticipate the School Facilities Board giving us permission on Feb. 6 based on the feedback we have from their staff.”
The School Facilities Board was set up to oversee school construction and maintenance in the state in the late 1990s, but has not been fully funded for several years.
The Gilbert board will hold a public hearing on Feb. 12. Burk expects the district to send out notification at least 10 days prior to the meeting.
“We’ll follow the law, which states parents of all affected students must be notified in writing 10 days prior,” Burk said. “One of the things we’re doing different this time to ensure the statue is complied with is we’re notifying all affected students. There will be more parents notified this time, including the feeder schools. Those parents will get a notice.”
During the public hearing, the public can comment on whether or not they agree with the closure.
Neighboring Mesa Unified School District has closed three junior high schools in the last few years: Powell Junior, Mesa Junior and Brimhall Junior. The last closure — that of Mesa Junior High and Brimhall Junior High — came after two months of discussion, including two public hearings attended by hundreds of students, teachers, staff and parents.
When the vote took place, there were less than 40 people in the audience.
When the Gilbert district announced plans last fall to disburse students from Gilbert Junior High School to other campuses and move the Gilbert Classical Academy from its current site to Gilbert Junior, there was outcry from the community. One public hearing was held – the same night as the vote. The board meeting was moved to the cafeteria of a high school because so many people were expected to attend — and did.
That continued Tuesday as more than 100 people crowded the district’s boardroom. Emotions ran high as parents both asked the board to reconsider — or stick with — the decision.
During a regular board meeting Tuesday night, a transition committee created by the previous board presented a recommendation that Gilbert Junior High School close in May, rather than go forward with any of the other considerations, including keeping it open for just eighth graders.
A committee made up for 10 parents, five from Gilbert Junior and five from Gilbert Classical Academy, as well as administrators from the schools.
“This was not taken lightly ... there was a lot of discussion. Sometimes there were tense moments. Sometimes there were tears. It was an emotional process,” said assistant superintendent Shane McCord, who led the committee.
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