Declining enrollment prompts Mesa district to consider options for elementary campuses - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Declining enrollment prompts Mesa district to consider options for elementary campuses

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:37 pm

Mesa school officials are trying to come up with innovative ways to repurpose an elementary campus to align the needs of the community with dwindling dollars and students.

Mesa Unified School District Superintendent Mike Cowan told the governing board Tuesday night that administrators are taking “a critical look at the use of our elementary schools” now that enrollment has stabilized this year.

“We’re hoping to pull that data together, to provide the board with a series of options related to the use of our elementary schools by a governing board meeting we have tentatively set for Oct. 2,” Cowan told the Tribune on Wednesday.

Enrollment in the district has dropped by about 10,000 students in the last 10 years. With that, and education cuts from the state, Mesa’s financial picture has declined by millions. The district has already made changes at the high school and junior high levels.

Board members said they do not want to close an elementary school only to have boarded-up buildings sitting in the middle of the neighborhood. Board members also said the size of a school may not be the key factor to closing one, because there is “value in small schools,” long-time board member Mike Hughes said.

In the last few years, the board and administration have made changes to address enrollment at the high schools and junior highs. The six comprehensive high schools now have ninth-graders – a big shift from decades of 10th through 12th grade education.

Three junior high schools have closed in Mesa, with new programs starting on two of those campuses. The former Brimhall Junior High School campus now houses Franklin at Brimhall, a K-8 program. The former Powell Junior High School site is home to the Mesa Education Center for adult education classes, community education classes, a preschool and an alternative.

The district has also removed all portable buildings at the junior highs.

Mesa Junior High School sits vacant in the once-heart of the community, awaiting the results of two separate November bond elections to determine its fate.

What has not been touched are the elementary schools in the district. A year ago, there was a lot of talk from community leaders and members of a facilities planning committee about the need to close a few of those, too, to address continued declining enrollment and funds to operate schools.

But the five-member elected governing board – noting that elementary schools are “the heart of a neighborhood” – wants plans formulated to use the buildings.

“As a general guideline, I don’t think any of us are comfortable closing an elementary school if there is no other purpose to that school. Since most of those sit in the middle of a neighborhood, just closing them up … without any other use for it, would not be good for a neighborhood,” board president Steve Peterson told the Tribune on Wednesday.

Board member Hughes agreed.

“We’re not interested in closing schools to just have a vacant building in the middle of a neighborhood. We certainly would look at other ideas,” he said. “We need to find a way to continue to increase the efficiencies we can to decrease costs in running a school.”

A few ideas that may be explored include opening a Franklin school in the northwest part of Mesa, creating a "technology rich" school or developing another dual language school, like that at Keller Elementary School, Cowan said.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or

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