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Shuttered and Stored 

TUSD begins next steps in school closure process

Sure, Yvonne Merrill recognizes that Brichta Elementary School is going to close, but that doesn't mean she and her neighbors accept it.

"The last thing we want to see is the building shuttered," Merrill says. "For how long?"

If the school—which is the centerpiece of her neighborhood west of Silverbell Road—must be closed, the Brichta Neighborhhod Association Volunteer says residents would rather see the building razed and a green space created for everyone to use. If that's not an option, they want the property put to another productive use.

"Maybe a community center, or even an assisted living facility for our seniors," she said.

During a December special meeting, just before Tucson Unified School District students headed into winter break, the governing board voted to close 11 district schools and turn one into a district-run charter school. Despite the desires of neighbors, and parent and teacher concerns, the closure process continues.

The next step is preparing other schools to take students from the closed schools in the fall of 2013. As the Weekly goes to press, a series of school meetings continue as the district finalizes boundaries and addresses desegregation requirements for federal court approval.

A committee of parents and TUSD representatives from the schools slated for closure and the ones set to receive their students has been studying how the process went the last time the district closed schools, in 2009.

A meeting on the boundaries and closure process was to be held Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Menlo Park Elementary, one of the schools to be closed, and another meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28, at Wakefield Middle School, also a target for closure.

According to Shaun Brown, a TUSD planning technician working with the closure and boundaries committee, part of the committee's focus has been how closures were handled three years ago. Both the schools to be closed and those receiving students are communicating about special concerns with particular students, transportation issues and what is needed to make the transition easier.

Transferring equipment, such as computers and electronic white boards, from the schools to be closed has become a key issue. Some items, because of how they were funded or due to warranties, can't be transferred to the receiving schools.

Shuttering school buildings will also be discussed at each meeting. The district wants to prevent vandalism that can further damage the properties and degrade the neighborhoods. Brown said windows will be protected and air-conditioning units will be removed from the buildings.

Brown says the boundary discussions will include which blocks, streets and ZIP codes will be added within the boundaries of the schools receiving students from the closed schools.

TUSD governing board member Adelita Grijalva, who was appointed president of the board this month, said that once the boundary meetings have concluded, the committee will present a plan to the school board. Once the board approves the plan, the district will submit it to federal court.

Grijalva said she has heard from parents who still have questions about the open enrollment process for those who do not want to send their children to the receiving schools proposed for their current school.

The meetings are "an opportunity to clear the air on what's going to happen from here and explaining the next steps," Grijalva said.

However, Merrill, doubts she and her neighbors will ever get a satisfactory answer to one of their most pressing concerns: Why Brichta?

"We're really distressed," Merrill said. "This is a performing school with an aggressive program with a wide range of students. This seems like the kind of school TUSD would want to remain open."

Merrill said many of the neighborhood's elderly residents have been counting on being able to sell their homes to young families attracted to the neighborhood because of the school. "Who is going to want to buy a family home here now?" she asked.

Merrill suggested that the Brichta school building be torn down, and the property given to the city for use as a park. "We were planning to work with Community Gardens of Tucson so residents of the neighborhood could have their own plots. This is the center of our neighborhood. Can't we figure out how to make sure it doesn't go away?"

The potential receiving schools for Brichta are a new K-8 school at Maxwell Middle School and Tolson Elementary as K-5.

Hohokam Middle School is up for closure, and it's potential receiving school is Valencia Middle School. Maxwell Middle School's potential receiving schools are Mansfield, Safford, Valencia middle schools, as well a Maxwell itself as a new K-8 and Robins as a K-8. For Menlo Park, it's potential receiving schools are the new Maxwell K-8 and Tolson Elementary. For Wakefield Middle School, potential receiving schools are a new K-8 at Hollinger and Van Buskirk Elementary.

For Fort Lowell/Townsend K-8, a closing school, the potential receiving schools are Whitmore Elementary and Doolen and Magee middle schools. For Schumaker Elementary, Bloom and Henry elementary schools are potential receiving schools. Students at the to-be-closed Howenstine High School will be directed to attend their neighborhood high schools.

The meeting on Thursday, Jan. 24 at Corbett Elementary, a closing school, and on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Carson Elementary, also a closing school, will discuss Carson's potential receiving schools, Secrist Middle and Dietz K-8, and Corbett's receiving schools, Wheeler Elementary with GATE students going to Kellond Elementary. Lyons Elementary closure will also be discussed, along with its potential receiving schools, Erickson and Ford elementary schools.

More by Mari Herreras

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