Mesa schools panel to search for solutions - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa schools panel to search for solutions

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Posted: Saturday, September 19, 2009 2:51 pm | Updated: 1:30 pm, Tue Dec 4, 2012.

Twenty-two schools in the Mesa Unified School District are running at 80 percent student capacity or less. Seven schools each have more than $3 million in repairs needed in the next five years. The district’s enrollment has dropped by more than 6,000 students in the last eight years, and its budget has been chopped by at least $60 million in the last two.

Twenty-two schools in the Mesa Unified School District are running at 80 percent student capacity or less.

Seven schools each have more than $3 million in repairs needed in the next five years.

The district’s enrollment has dropped by more than 6,000 students in the last eight years, and its budget has been chopped by at least $60 million in the last two.

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With all the changes around the district, new Superintendent Mike Cowan announced this summer a committee would be forced to analyze everything from enrollment to school capacity to repair needs with the mission to help give the district direction.

The “Defining the Future” committee will begin meeting this week. Right now, district employees and a member of the district’s boundary creation group make up the membership.

They’ll look at 67 points of analysis completed for the 77 neighborhood campuses. With that, they may create plans for new programs, school closures, reconfiguring grades and more.

The analysis was completed earlier this month and will be available online at http://www2.mpsaz.org/future.

The Tribune looked at the information last week and found:

• 15 schools at 100 percent or above capacity.

• 16 schools at 90 percent to 100 percent capacity.

• A number of schools near the Dobson Ranch area are running at 79 percent capacity or less, though there are pockets of such schools all around the district.

• Rhodes Junior High School, which opened in 1978, needs the most repairs: $7 million to fix electrical, floor and sound issues.

• Mountain View High School, which opened in 1976, needs about $5.7 million to address electrical, kitchen, flooring, sound, plumbing and mechanical issues.

The district spent $10.9 million in the last five years adding a 26-classroom building, remodeling the biology-tech center, upgrading the fine arts building and making other major repairs at Mountain View.

In recent years, repairs on Mesa campuses were paid for with voter-approved bond funds and in some cases, funds from the state School Facilities Board.

The district used enrollment figures from last school year and the capacity method required by the School Facilities Board in its analysis.

As the committee looks at the data and makes proposals, community members and staff from those schools that could be impacted will be invited to join the group. That committee will make recommendations, which will be open for public comment.

The data itself “can’t stand alone. This is part of a larger effort,” said the district’s director of development, Paul Wright. He is charged with presenting the information to the committee and will write up summaries of the meetings online for public viewing.

Governing board president Mike Hughes and the other four members of the board will be charged with making the final decision on school use, grade reconfigurations and possible boundary changes by December.

During various meetings with parents and the board, Cowan has stated a variety of possibilities: creating primary schools with grades kindergarten through three, creating a niche ninth-grade academy or academics-only high school, opening charter schools on existing campuses.

The district has a plan pending approval through the Arizona Board for Charter Schools to open as many as three charter schools next fall.

But the most popular and talked about change seems to be the possible change of some junior highs and high schools to align with programs in neighboring school districts.

Mesa’s junior high schools now hold grades seven through nine, while the high schools hold grades 10 through 12. The district will look at shifting sixth-graders to the junior highs and ninth-graders to the high schools.

“We are moving into a communitywide conversation about this,” Cowan said during an August meeting with parents. “We’re trying to look at all the viable options.”

The districts projected a 15th-day enrollment this year of 66,842, but the final figure came in higher: 67,220.

Last year, the district had more than 69,000 students.

Board president Hughes said he sees this as a crucial time for the district. There are many academic programs that can be tapped into and created to help the district evolve.

“We are doing all of this to enhance educational choices,” he said. “This is not just saving dollars.”

The district has made changes in the last few years to not only maintain students, but to draw some of the 10,000 children in charter schools in Mesa and bordering districts.

The Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies, Crossroads (a small-school environment for high school students) and International Baccalaureate programs are just a few niche creations in the district in the last few years.

Cowan and Hughes said there are no plans in place to close a school. The district’s Web site states a school with low enrollment could be used as a site for a new academic program or as a school with different grade levels than what is served there now.

“I would love to find a way to come out of this not closing a single school, but a refocusing and rebranding (of existing campuses),” Hughes said.

Too many students or too few?

A new analysis by the Mesa Unified School District shows that 22 schools are running at 80 percent of student capacity or less. Meanwhile, 15 schools are at 100 percent capacity or higher.

80 percent or Less

Elementary:

• Brinton

• Irving

• Whittier

• Hale

• Pomeroy

• Lincoln

• Frost

• Jefferson

• Bush

• Roosevelt

• Jordan

• Franklin-West

• Guerrero

Junior high:

• Carson

• Smith

• Brimhall

• Rhodes

• Powell

• Mesa

• Hendrix

High school:

• Skyline

• Westwood

100 percent or Higher

Elementary:

• Field

• Salk

• MacArthur

• Wilson

• Highland

• Kerr

• Stevenson

• Robson

• Franklin Northeast

• Webster

• Las Sendas

• Franklin East

Junior high:

• Fremont

• Poston

High school:

• East Valley Academy*

* Note: East Valley Academy is a small campus that provides academic classes for students attending the East Valley Institute of Technology in west Mesa. None of the district’s comprehensive high schools are at 100 percent capacity or higher.

To see information about your school, go to http://www2.mpsaz.org/future

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