Welcome to today's live chat with Dr. Mark Stegeman, TUSD board member, who will take your questions about the proposed school closings.
Hello; I am looking forward to answering questions as well as I can. Tonight's Board meeting starts at 6 at Catalina HS.
SMT: Thanks for participating. I have heard little discussion of 7-12 schools. I think staff is not generally favoring that option at this time. I personally want to move forward with positive changes for UHS but that is not under discussion tonight; it should be discussed soon.
The only high school being considered for closure imminently is our small high school, Howenstine.
Dee: our enrollment is affected by immigration and economic conditions, and we do not ask about immigration status. There is a Supreme Court decision that is generally interpreted to mean that we are obliged to educate any student in our boundaries regardless of immigration status.
The discussion of numbers of schools is misleading. Some closures have the potential to generate significant financial savings and others much less so. I think the Board should move first on "high value" closures; moving down past 10 schools may not produce much additional savings. The likely savings from closing elementary schools is often overestimated, based on our own and other districts' experience.
The school district was (obviously) not laid out with the goal of making closures easy. So it is easy to talk about numbers of schools but when one looks at individual schools for closure there are often problems, such as realistic savings being fairly low, or students being forced to travel long distances or travel to schools with inferior academic performance.
Another issue is how many closures the staff can realistically handle in a single year while achieving good results. There are many logistical issues, boundary issues, issues of working with families, and if you try to close too many schools at once then problems are more likely to arise.
Dr. Fagen asked schools to come forward and "volunteer" to close, and Central provided incentives to do that. Then in the end we added some schools that had not volunteered. This process has been more top-down, though also with more input from the community through the town halls and focus groups. It has been generally less rushed.
Tonight we will likely vote on starting the possible closure process for some schools. These votes will not be final decisions; for example we started the process with Carson a couple of years ago and then in the end did not close. Then there will be two required legal processes: the customary statutory process with public hearings; and a special process for TUSD which requires us to get approval from the federal district court for any closure.
I have offered to meet with the new members to learn about their views but they have not yet been able to have those meetings. I hope that they will happen soon, because their views are important.
Formally, the new Board members have no role until they take office in January.
I suggested (and the Board agreed) that staff focus on middle schools this time, because we focused on elementary schools in the last closure round and closing middle schools can generate significantly greater savings. In the end, most of the schools on staff's list are elementary schools. This is natural to some extent, because most of our schools are elementary schools.
The Board asked for a list of ten schools but that does not mean that only ten will close in the end. Each closure must individually make sense, and it is hard to find a large number that individually make sense from the viewpoint of actually generating significant savings or satisfying other important criteria. Schools must be evaluated case by case.
It is certain that the first ten that would be closed will save more than the second ten. Obviously it makes sense to start with the highest value closures.
I think we should wait before reaching conclusions about the new Board. It certainly seems possible that the new Board will be less inclined to close schools.
I am not aware of any raise being offered at this time. We are not in negotiations yet for the next school year.
Maybe I misunderstood your question.
There should be savings in operations from school closures, and we should be looking for savings in operations anyway, regardless of closures. We need to be more efficient. Transportation costs, however, are likely to rise because more students will need busing to schools that are farther away than their old school.
The state gives us a significant degree of reimbursement for busing expenses, but it does not cover those expenses fully. So additional busing will come at some cost to the district.
DT: The Board has not approved any of the scenarios and played little or no role in developing them. I am not opposed to teacher pay raises generally, but in my opinion it is premature to talk about salaries for next year, for any class of employees.
DT: TUSD has been making huge changes to alternative programs over the last several years; some of those changes have gone well and some less well. The future of TAPP, Project MORE, and SW Alternative have all been discussed. Staff developed the list and questions about which schools they chose should be addressed to them. I assume that they took the Board's expressed criteria seriously when making those choices.
DT: I expect TS to become more efficient over time, as the district upgrades its network, computers, and other parts of its infrastructure. While technology is important, K-12 education relies above all on teachers, and there is some danger of putting too much emphasis on and investment in technology.
The improvements in technology should allow many of the district's internal operations to become more efficient over time. But it is not clear how many of those savings will show up in time to help with next year's budget.
One of the problems with budget planning is that with the failure of 204 we really don't have a clear idea about how much money we will have. Prudence requires that we plan for the worst case or something close to the worst case, but that may not materialize. The budget picture usually does not become completely clear until late spring.
THV: You will not be limited to only two choices. We have a policy of open enrollment. However the district may not provide busing to your preferred choice.
Jack: I think we should do that. One problem with this process is that it is rushed, though it has been less rushed than the closure round we did two years ago. I have personally visited most of the schools on the list, at some time over the last several years, but not all of them. I think it is important to show the community that we make these complicated decisions carefully and deliberately.
SMT: On the SW side generally we do not have excess capacity. That is clear because the new school filled up right away and has a waiting list. One of the arguments that has been raised against closures on the SW side is that some of the current imbalances among the schools could be remedied with boundary adjustments. I do not have a clear sense at this point how realistic that is, but it is certainly a fair point.