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Flagstaff Schools Face Closure

By Theresa Bierer

Flagstaff, AZ. – Intro) In every county in Arizona, budget cuts and shifting demographics are forcing school districts to consider closing schools to save money. For months now, the Flagstaff Unified School District has weighed whether to close some of its schools, after years of dwindling enrollments and subsequent revenue losses from the state. The school board is expected to make its decision tonight. We have a report from Arizona Public Radios Theresa Bierer, who, as a disclaimer, has two children who attend FUSD schools.

(Sound of Flagstaff Middle School meeting)

TB) On this last day of school, first year principal Steve Boadway encourages his teaching staff at Flagstaff middle school. Earlier in the year Boadway's school showed up on the possible short list of closures.

BOADWAY) There' s not much I can do but have an understanding of where they are.

TB) Like his teachers and staff, Boadway doesn't know where he'll be next year. It's a situation playing out across Arizona. Tucson Unified will likely close nine elementary schools this summer to help fill its huge budget gap. In Yavapai County two districts are considering possible school mergers.

(Sound of moving boxes)

TB) In a classroom at Flagstaff Middle School, Carol Sharp is packing up her things It's an emotional day for Sharp, who started teaching here over 20 years ago.

Sharp) it has not been easy but we have been packing for several weeks and going through 22 years of stuff is quite a task. so, I guess right now things are in the boxes and we're just waiting to see what the decision will be.

TB) Teachers district-wide have their classrooms packed up, waiting to hear which schools will remain open and where employees will be assigned for the next school year. After researching options, the district came up with a plan that was endorsed by educators at Northern Arizona University and the principals of Flagstaff's high schools. The district would save an estimated 2-point-7 million dollars by closing 2 elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. Enrollment at the 2 remaining high schools would increase by about 500 students.

David Roth) it's really in the best opportunity of the high school student because they get more educational opportunities by being in a larger high school setting

TB) Coconino High School Principal Dave Roth says the change would benefit both students who struggle and those who excel

ROTH) our concern with high school principals is that they we're starting to lose opportunities in AP courses and classes that are more meaningful and more educational for students because as enrollment decreases, the opportunity for some classes disappears because of class sizes.

TB) Under the district's proposed restructuring, high schools would go to a 6 period day instead of the current 4 periods. That would save money by putting teachers in the classroom for a greater percentage of the day. The 2 remaining middle Schools would also look different with 6th graders joining the 7th and 8th graders.

McGuire) There's a bigger concern of throwing a 6th grader into an 1100 student school.

TB) That's Flagstaff attorney Pernell McGuire. He's leading a parent group that wants to keep Flagstaff's 3 high schools. But each would house 7th through 12th grade, a model started at Sinagua High School in the fall.

McGuire) One of the big issues that flagstaff has had to deal with over the years has been the loss of students. We don't believe closing schools is going to help with that issue, it's just going to make it worse. So, our big issue is we want to see kids stay within the district. We want to see smaller schools. Those are better for the students. And we want to make sure the district can pay for it and is financially responsible.

TB) It was McGuire who pointed out an omission in notices mailed to district families about possible school closures. The technicality forced administrators to start the process over, delaying action by more than 2 months. During that time, McGuire and fellow parent Rick Krug compared potential cost savings of different closure scenarios.

(Sound from Forum)

TB) At this public forum last month they presented those alternate plans to the school board. Krista Dobash was there. She's a teacher, and parent of 2 kids in the district, who says the board has one job to do.

KristaDobash) definitely making a decision based on finances. we're going to be in the same position next year if we don't make these hard decision this year.

TB) Joy Cooper agrees. She's president of Marshall School's PTO and says she'll endorse the board's decision.

Cooper) and I like to not take a side because I don't know what's best. I am not on the school board. I do not know all of the numbers involved, but I do feel that our school board has everybody's best interest at heart. So that is my stand. I am here to support whatever it takes and I am here to support my child.

TB) Not everyone shares Cooper's perspective. The Flagstaff Unified School District expects 2 potential lawsuits if they decide to close schools tonight. The district is also redrawing school boundary lines which could assign families to new schools in the fall even if their current school remains open.

Kulpinski) it's important to understand that no matter what school a student is in in this district, they get a quality education.

TB) Paul Kulpinski has 2 high schoolers in the district and has served on the Governing Board for 6 years . He recognizes people are loyal to their neighborhood school. But he says with declining enrollments and budget cuts from the state, restructuring is necessary.

Kulpinski) we need change in order to move us forward into that 21st century mindset. so regardless of what happens, the quality of instruction that happens in any classroom I believe will be moving toward a higher level of quality because of our ability to offer greater depth of programming and other options that the consolidation can lend.

TB) Tonight's school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 5-30 in Coconino High School's main auditorium. Another meeting on district boundaries is scheduled for Monday night in the same location and next Tuesday at Sinagua High. In Flagstaff, For A