McKemy Middle School will close at the end of the school year and four elementary schools will merge into two, the Tempe Elementary School District governing board decided late Wednesday night.
More than 200 parents and district staff members watched the discussions before the 5-0 votes in the boardroom and an overflow room in the district office.
With the decision, McKemy, which opened in 1958, will close and Bustoz Elementary School will merge into Fuller Elementary School while Meyer Elementary will merge into Hudson Elementary School.
The decisions came after hundreds of parents rallied behind the schools during the last few months during several public hearings and forums.
Tempe Elementary School District has more than 2,000 empty seats as enrollment has declined the last few years - including a loss of nearly 1,400 students the past five. The student losses also mean dollar losses since public schools in Arizona are funded by the state based on enrollment figures.
In addition, as the state has seen drastic loss of revenue the past few years, lawmakers have cut education funding, a major component of spending in the state.
The district formed a 14-member committee of community and staff members to prepare budget reduction options late last fall. The closing and merging of the schools ranked in the top three choices of the committee.
The district plans to move staff from McKemy, Bustoz and Meyer to remaining campuses.
In addition to agreeing to close and merge schools, which will save the district about $2.3 million, the board made further budget reductions and changes.
Tempe Elementary needs to cut between $3.4 million and $3.9 million next school year. The board, should the district need to cut the lesser amount, the board voted to give more money for all staff in the form of a stipend. A final budget for the 2011-12 school year will be adopted before the end of June.
This is the second time in the past few years the district’s board has closed a school. Evans Elementary School was closed beginning with the 2009-10 school year. A few months later Evans was leased to the Tempe Union High School District and a preschool.
More work is ahead for the district to find uses for McKemy, Bustoz and Meyer.
“Now that the board has made their decision, we will begin discussions on how we will proceed with the merged or repurposed facilities,” district spokeswoman Monica Allread said.
Rhonda Steele, who led Save McKemy efforts at meetings and online, said she was disappointed, but not surprised, at the decision and is concerned for the future of the school that sits just two blocks from her home.
“The biggest casualty is the community. The district, by doing this this way, has alienated the trust,” she said. “They’ve eliminated the possibility that it can work together with the community to make something good happen.”
Steele also expressed concern that the board didn’t adopt any budget saving ideas presented by community members.
Board member Rochelle Wells, in expressing her support for closing McKemy, said she is concerned about not just next year, but a potential funding deficit the following year.
“We have to make sure the items on our list take us through more than next year,” Wells said. “I feel if we don’t repurpose the schools and merge them we won’t take our district into the future.”
Lisa Jones, a parent of students at Broadmor Elementary and McKemy Middle schools, said she is concerned the district will continue to lose students because of the school closures.
“(Parents) will take their elementary school kids and they’re going to leave,” she said, adding parents may enroll in charter schools, private schools or neighboring school districts.
In addition to the school closing and merges, the board approved:
• A 5 percent cut for all departments.
• Increasing class size for grades kindergarten through three by two students.
• Making the New Year’s Day holiday unpaid for staff members with 12-month contracts.
• Offering band, orchestra or choir to fifth graders (no general music class option).
• Adding educational increments, which gives teachers additional salary for completing coursework.
• Changing stipends awarded to teachers who receive National Board Certification.
• Adding an additional class section to middle school teachers’ loads (removing one of two prep periods).
• Holding elementary school music festivals outside the school day.
• Giving all staff a 1 percent stipend.
The district currently employs 1,722 people. About 900 are certified staff members, including teachers, school counselors and psychologists.
Salaries have been frozen the past two years at the 2008-09 level, while mandatory state retirement contributions have continued to increase.
During Wednesday night’s discussions, the governing board expressed concern about staff compensation.
“In many, many cases their take-home pay is down from the ’08-09 level,” Allread said Thursday.
In fact, salaries for many teachers around the East Valley will remain frozen for next year, as they have for the past two years.
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