Flagstaff Unified School District
December 7, 2009 by USA Post
Flagstaff Unified School District:The great majority of families in the Flagstaff Unified School District will receive generic letters advising them that their school boundaries will change next year, pending a go-ahead Tuesday from the FUSD governing board.
The letters are a first official step in administrators’ plans to consolidate schools, which have surfaced primarily as a result of uneven enrollment patterns and an estimated $9 million cut to state aid next year. The blanket statements would be formulaic and explain the state-regulated process of reconfiguring school attendance boundaries, but would not imply that the recipients’ school will be closed or their children would be placed in another school’s boundaries, said assistant superintendent Barbara Hickman. Approval to issue the letters is one of the key votes on Tuesday’s packed meeting agenda, along with movement on a plan for paring FUSD’s high schools from three, block-scheduled campuses to two schools on a traditional six-period day; continuing general discussions on consolidating middle schools and elementary schools; and returning to voters in March to again ask for a budget override, just weeks after area voters rejected such a tax initiative.
Hickman stressed that none of Tuesday’s consolidation-related votes would name any specific schools and that board members would actually be given a few more options to consider before making the most binding votes that formally identify schools for closure. Those votes are slated for February or March.
ADDRESSING BOARD CONCERNS
That’s contrary to an earlier understanding by at least one board member. Beth Heerding expressed some apprehension earlier last week that she would be presented with such a narrowly defined slate of options that she would essentially be voting on next year’s configurations this week, and parents had limited information and time in which to process it.
“This is so important and I really feel that to represent the community well — we may not do things that everybody agrees with. We’re going to make people mad — but I think to represent them well we have to listen,” Heerding said.
Hickman tried to defuse that concern by saying Tuesday’s votes would still be general, although scenarios discussed over the last few weeks have named several schools and a tentative timeline hinted that Tuesday’s vote would be more narrowly defined.
“They were never making firm decisions on anything in the first place except a concept. So all that’s changed in that is simply the way that that was originally written, (which) was to have a one-middle school option,” Hickman said. “Now we simply rewrote it to look at a couple different middle school options.”
HIGH SCHOOLS NEED LEAD TIME
That said, administrators do hope to promptly move forward with a more formed plan for high schools, which have more rigid course requirements and complicated scheduling logistics than do middle or elementary schools.
They will ask the board to close one of the high schools — either Coconino or Sinagua, as Flagstaff High School would be maintained as a high school because it is the biggest facility in the district and can hold the most people — and shift the remaining two schools to six-period days. Currently, all three high schools are on four-period block schedules.
Hickman said principals need to start planning next school year as soon as possible. They’d also like to give their staffs as much lead time as possible, since a closure and schedule reconfiguration would eliminate about 24 teaching positions aside from school administrative staff.
MORE MIDDLE-SCHOOL IDEAS
On the middle school front, administrators had earlier suggested closing two of the three schools and condensing all 1,300 to 1,400 seventh and eighth graders into one building. She said a few more ideas, which would at least be discussed on Tuesday, include making middle schools cover grades 6 through 8; configuring all three secondary schools as 7-12 facilities (like Sinagua Schools); putting the large, grades 7-8 middle school on team or “house” set-ups; or running a two-track modified year-round calendar so that the building wouldn’t always be at top capacity.
Hickman said that any reconfigurations would need to save money, improve school efficiency and support programming. But the bottom line, she said, has to be money.
Superintendent Kevin Brown has pegged next year’s state cuts at $9 million, but he said that was a middle-range estimate and that could range from $5 million to $13 million. And that’s not counting other budgetary hits, including loss in per-pupil funding due to the continued drop in enrollment, increasing personnel expenses, and the phasing out of the last override.
“I wish that I could say that supporting the program was the number one reason to make any decision right now, but it’s not because we have to find $13 million,” said Hickman, who will take over for the retiring Brown in January as interim superintendent. “That’s totally painful for me to say and terrible for people to hear and I absolutely understand that, but in order to have any program at all we have to be able to balance the budget (and) the state hasn’t really given us much to work with.”
Hickman said that one recurring criticism of FUSD leadership is that their policy changes tend to be short-term, not long-term, solutions. However, long-term is the goal, she said, but thrown off lately by budgetary curveballs.
“We never could have anticipated a $13 million budget gap,” she said. “Never.’”
Hillary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2261.
If you go
WHAT: FUSD school board meeting
WHEN: Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. (Work session at 4:30 p.m.)
WHERE: FUSD administrative headquarters, 3285 E. Sparrow Ave.
WHY: Preliminary votes on school closure plans. No schools will be named at this time.
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