A Maricopa County Superior Court judge said Tuesday that he plans to decide “sooner rather than later” on whether to accept a proposed settlement to close the Thomas J. Pappas schools for the homeless.
On Tuesday, Judge John Buttrick heard arguments from those who support and oppose the settlement, which stems from financial problems at the schools.
Buttrick can accept the settlement or let the issue go to trial. He did not specify how soon he would rule.
Arguing for the closure were lawyers for the receiver board of the Maricopa County Regional School District, the Maricopa County treasurer and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
The three entities approved a settlement earlier this month to close the three Pappas schools, which includes the Tempe campus, at the end of the school year. Those students would then attend nearby elementary schools.
The settlement is being challenged by lawyers David Cantelme and Aaron Brown, who represent Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools Sandra Dowling.
Dowling founded the Pappas schools and served as the sole member of the school board until she voluntarily stepped down in December. She wants the schools to remain open, wants the issue to go to trial, and wants to be let back into the case since stepping down.
The settlement comes after months of remediation among the regional district, the board of supervisors, and the county treasurer after lawsuits were filed involving misuse of money at the schools.
Tom Irvine, a lawyer representing the county, said the settlement is a “good, solid” deal for the district, students and staff. The agreement also includes a referral placement policy to give employees of the Pappas schools priority for hiring in county positions they qualify for.
“It’s taken a year to get to the bottom of the financial implications,” Irvine said. “Not one person has come up to suggest ways for the district to stay open. We have a comprehensive situation for the school to stay open for the (school) year.”
Cantelme argued it’s not Dowling’s fault for the school’s money problems.
“If the county had paid what they were supposed to pay, there never would have been a deficit,” Cantelme said. “That’s why we are where we are today.”
Cantelme also argued against the county’s claim that the schools are not performing well academically. The Pappas schools each received a “performing” label, which was announced Monday by the AZ Learns study.
“This poor little district that helps the homeless should be allowed to live,” Cantelme said.