TUSD board set to vote on school closures

TUSD board set to vote on school closures

CREATED Dec 20, 2012

Reporter: Justin Schecker

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - After weeks of public outcry from community members hoping to save their schools, the Tucson Unified School District board will decide the fate of 14 schools tonight. They will vote on closing these schools as part of their plans to get out of a $17 million budget hole. 

Schumaker Elementary School on the east side is on the chopping block. Schumaker Principal Julie Laird said she doesn't want her school to shut down, but she supports the board's plans to close schools. 

"Closures need to happen in order for our students to be able to have services and programs next year," Laird said. 

Many parents are finding it harder to accept the possibility of Schumaker elementary school closing, Laird said, but she urges them to look at the bigger picture. 

"This is coming from the cuts that are coming from the state legislature," Laird said. "This is not something our district is doing because they want to close schools. It's a necessity due to the funding that we are receiving."

"I do agree we need to close schools because we are in a budget crunch," said Sandy Herfkens, a first grade teacher at Schumaker.    

Herfkens told 9 On Your Side she was shocked to learn Schumaker fit the board's criteria for closure because of the school's high enrollment and kindergarten through fifth grade emotional disability program.      

"I feel that there are other schools within our district that do fit in that criteria and would save the district more money," Herfkens said.

While Herfkens lives outside the Schumaker district, she has openly enrolled her children to attend Schumaker, where she has taught for 12 years. 

"I've always had my children with me at school and I really like that," she said. "So having to start over for Toby and making sure that he gets the right fit for him is difficult."

As for the board's difficult decisions tonight, Laird said the members should be voting on closing even more schools.       

"I know a lot of people won't want to hear that, but the reality is these 14 schools are going to barely put a dent in that $17 million shortfall," Laird said. 

The high cost of building maintenance and repairs at older schools such as Schumaker factored into the decision on which schools the board will vote on closing tonight, Laird said.  

Both Laird and Herfkens would like to keep working for TUSD. Laird said it's too early to tell, but she plans to apply for principal and teaching openings. Herfkens said she hopes to teach first grade at another school. 

Some parents have voiced concern that the board is moving too quickly and should wait for the newly elected board members in January to be seated. Laird told 9 On Your Side she agrees the vote needs to happen now in order to give the board enough time to start implementing the changes for next school year.