Declining enrollment means Mesa's 13 junior high schools have space for 3,600 students who aren't there.
With that many empty seats, Mesa Unified School District leadership plans to present options -- which will likely include closing schools -- to the governing board in two weeks.
Mesa's enrollment topped 72,000 students only a few years ago. This year, the district had planned on an additional decline, but instead saw enrollment stay steady for the first time in several years. The district has about 64,200 students this year.
But with the previous loss of students and the move of ninth-graders to the district's high schools, there are only about 9,400 students occupying space built for 13,100 students in the brick-and-mortar buildings on junior high campuses, said Bobette Sylvester, the district's assistant superintendent for business and support services.
District leaders are looking at everything from classroom space available, energy efficiency of buildings, age of the buildings, recent renovations, and programs at the different campuses in preparing the recommendations, Sylvester said. That includes the need for space for computers, special education services and one-on-one academic programs.
"These are gut-wrenching decisions, not only by the governing board, but for the community," said board member Mike Hughes. "We've gone through this before, but this is a very big step. There is no doubt we're going to face some school closures. It's not if we'll do it, but when we'll do it and who it will be. This is a reality Mesa has to look at. How we go about this is going to be incredibly important."
The governing board could accept the recommendations or make others during a meeting as early as Sept. 27. Under state law, should the governing board decide to move forward with closing a school, the public must be notified at least 10 days prior to a first hearing. A second hearing is also required by state law, with at least 10 days between the two meetings.
With the enrollment and budget issues the district has seen the past few years, the district started looking at school use in 2009, with a decision made in January 2010 to close Powell Junior High School and turn it into an education center. Alma Elementary School was converted into a Franklin school, a popular back-to-basics option. The district also closed other facilities and moved programs around to open space.
Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune