The TUSD Vortex: Hicks Says he Won't Vote for School Closures

When the Tucson Unified School District governing board meets on Thursday, Dec. 20 to make a final vote on school closures and consolidations, board member Michael Hicks said he plans to vote no on all school closures.

At a meeting last night at Brichta Elementary, Hicks was asked to address the school closure issue and the fact that the board recently approved 14 schools to consider for closure. There will be public hearings on Dec. 8 and 10, with the final vote Dec. 20.

"The district should have dealt with this years ago," Hicks said. "I'll accept part of the blame."

During the past two special meetings last month in which the board determined schools based on staff recommendations and the development of what the district calls the "school master plan," Hicks and other board members have barely spoken out against the district administration.

But last night, to a group of almost 100 parents in the school's cafeteria, Hicks said TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone works for the board, not the other way around. He also added that he does not agree with the criteria used by the administration in determining closures. Hicks described it as "politics."

"I don't believe the criteria was good and sound. At times its seemed like they picked a school out of their back pocket," he said.

As an example, Hicks mentioned Santa Rita High School, which was brought before the board at the final special meeting, but not chosen for closure. Hicks said it was completely unexpected. But so is the selection of schools that are highly performing.

When asked if he's looked over the district's latest budget and has identified cuts that could help the district save $17 million, he said he wasn't a money person, but was turning to people to help him better understand those figures. Despite that, he'd rather look at the budget and other ways to save money or create revenue rather than close schools.

Hicks said TUSD should look at the development of more district-run charter schools, adding two more kids per classroom throughout the district and changing the school year to year-long.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather Brichta parents and organize for the upcoming public hearings. Brichta parent Stephanie Hamilton said parents have gotten together to form BCAN—Brichta Community Action Network to develop alternatives for the district. They also started a petition and a letter-writing campaign to the board.

Hamilton said most parents want to keep neighborhood schools open, and the general feeling is that the school closures came out of nowhere.

Hamilton proposed other ways TUSD could bring in additional cash—the sale of Maxwell Middle School's 18 acres zoned residential, or a TUSD-owned parcel by Ironwood Hills that could bring in additional revenue. She also thinks the Brichta parents need to remind the board that their school's utility bill is one of the lowest out of all TUSD schools.

"We need to work together to give the district other alternatives," she said.

Hicks later reminded parents that any revenue brought in from the sale of property goes back to facilities and not the management and operation side of the budget—where the deficit exists.

See the list of schools being considered for closure after the jump.