The fate of three Scottsdale public schools hangs in the balance as educators outlined possible school closings and mergers they say are necessary to keep the district alive.
"If we don't close smaller branches, we will end up bankrupt. We are in tough times," Scottsdale Unified School District governing board member Eric Meyer said at Tuesday's standing-room-only meeting at the District Education Center.
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District administrators, citing declining student enrollment and state aid, told concerned parents and teachers the cuts are necessary to operate more efficiently and fend off potential losses to educational programming and staffing.
The key proposals include:
The consolidation of the Aztec and Zuni elementary schools at the Zuni site.
The transfer of the Cheyenne Traditional K-8 school to the current Aztec site.
The consolidation of the Pueblo and Navajo elementary schools to the Mohave Middle School site.
The rebuilding of Mohave at the Navajo site as a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school. Estimated cost: $28 million.
A nearly $200 million bond proposal would be needed to cover expenses, including school renovations.
Plans for the vacated sites affected by the consolidations would allow the district to tap into new revenue streams, such as leasing ballfields to the city, said David Peterson, the district's superintendent of operations.
The majority of the five-member governing board appeared to be in agreement over the suggested transfer of Aztec in the northern part of Scottsdale and Navajo and Pueblo in the south.
"The reality is that there are too many desks and not enough kids," said board member Jennifer Petersen.
"It's painful to move students, but who knows what our legislators will cut in the future. We need to close schools and constrain expenses," board member Dieter Schaefer said.
Board president Karen Beckvar said it's hard to justify to taxpayers the alternative option of rebuilding Cheyenne at the estimated cost of $16.5 million.
Board member Molly Holzer, dissented from her colleagues, saying she's concerned the recommended "rightsizing" of the district may backfire. "I'm worried about the fallout. I know we are trying to cut down overhead, but the facilities plan impacts too many students," she said.
If the Zuni-Aztec merger - the first proposed consolidation - goes through, Peterson said the new combined campus will house slightly more than 900 elementary school students.
"We have a huge parking issue. The parking situation barely accommodates our students right now," said Kristy Davenport, Zuni's PTO president.
Parent Erin Strickstein, whose children attend Aztec, said the thought of a "supersized" Zuni campus is unacceptable.
"I will not stay in the Scottsdale school district if this happens. I will put my children in private school," Strickstein said.
The next public hearing on the matter is expected at the end of next month, with possible board action on the potential Zuni and Aztec merger coming as early as December.