The Mesa Unified School District’s elected leaders will start examining elementary school enrollment and trends Tuesday, looking at whether or not there will be school closures or the merging of campuses in the future.
The governing board will hold its annual retreat beginning at 8 a.m. The agenda includes discussion about recent academic achievement of students, goal setting for the district, “Defining the Future IV,” teacher evaluations and the $230 million bond question that will be on the November ballot.
“Defining the Future” began several years ago as the district began to see a decline in enrollment and changes to education. Total enrollment has dropped by about 10,000 in the last 10 years. Recently completed projections show stagnant enrollment overall in the next 10 years.
Data that looked at the district’s 58 elementary school sites during the 2011-2012 school year showed more than 5,000 empty seats.
That figure may shrink if the governing board decides to analyze that data using more square footage per student than the current state model lists.
“The difficulty is that capacity is spread unevenly throughout the district. That is also a projection based on the total square feet at a site divided by 90 square feet. This is a (state) School Facilities Board standard. It doesn’t take into consideration actual classroom configuration or any additional facilities that a school might have,” assistant superintendent Bobette Sylvester said in an email. “Those additional facilities, such as a multipurpose room or large interior corridors, would be part of the base calculation, but not necessarily be effective as classroom space.”
The governing board has already decided to move unnecessary portables off the junior high school sites. The board will have to examine portable classroom use on elementary schools, as well.
“‘Defining the Future’ will be predominantly the elementaries,” governing board president Steven Peterson told the Tribune. “We don’t want to maintain any more buildings than we have to from a cost prospective, so we need to make sure to continue to right-size the district.”
During Mesa’s last three “Defining the Future” phases, the district closed three junior high schools, crafted new uses for campuses, moved ninth-graders to the high schools, created a new academy and shifted programs away from buildings that could be put to other uses or lease.
In the past, like this upcoming Tuesday meeting, the board has used its summer retreat to start talking about what could happen.
“We’ll have to go through and decide what excess we have and see if we can repurpose those buildings. We just need to decide if there is excess space. We need to look at that (school) segment,” Peterson said.
Regarding the elementary schools, Superintendent Mike Cowan said, “We’re not going to be bringing recommendations. We’re going to engage in a conversation about what they believe is appropriate for use to pursue in phase four, focused primarily on elementary schools.”
Discussion Tuesday will focus on school size, square footage available for classes, portable buildings and enrollment trends.
Projections done by Applied Economics and released to the district in April show enrollment in kindergarten through fourth grade at 24,987 this school year. But in 2021-2022, it is estimated to drop to 23,172.
In the projection data, students in grades five through eight are included together, though the Mesa district operates its elementary schools with kindergarten through sixth grade, junior high schools with seventh and eighth grades, and high schools with ninth through 12th grade.
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