CCUSD taking heat over middle school closure and prep academies

By Linda Bentley | February 17, 2010

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‘Why are we considering closing Desert Arroyo Middle School to open an elitist academy?’
CCUSD – Call to the Public during the Feb. 9 governing board meeting brought Sandra Creston to the microphone to say she had many questions after attending the meetings about the closure of Desert Arroyo Middle School (DAMS) and it appeared 80 percent of the parents surveyed didn’t want to switch their children to Sonoran Trails near the district’s southern boundary.

She wanted to know why closing the smallest elementary school wasn’t considered and asked, “Why are we considering closing DAMS to open an elitist academy? Why are you not more worried about the students you have than the 90 you lost?”

Another parent said he attended both meetings and stated, “I walked away feeling no one supports the decisions to close DAMS.”

He said there were rumors that these moves are a “personal agenda for someone.”

Another parent said the district based its decision to close DAMS on the $100,000 difference between closing Desert Sun Elementary and DAMS.

He said because DAMS was centrally located and Sonoran Trails is not, in his opinion, the district stands to lose more than $100,000 difference in students who leave the district as a result.

Monica Barrett requested that the board review program options and asked, “Are you targeting the right kids?”

jana millerShe provided some history as to how many students have left the district over the past several years and said, “They haven’t left us for uniforms and academic prep.”

Barrett said the district doesn’t need a 7-12 prep academy. Instead, it needs to reach the kids CCUSD is not reaching through normal channels.

Board member Susan Clancy asked Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Jana Miller where the teachers would be coming from and if any would be coming from Cactus Shadows High School.

Miller responded, “They could be.”

Clancy said it appeared the district was counting on attracting students from outside the district. If not, she said it would be moot if students just switched from another school from within the district.

Board member Janet Busby stated there were honors classes in the district’s middle schools but looking at the district’s website, it appeared the district was only marketing the two prep academies.

Miller said it was not the district’s intent to take the top learners from their existing schools. “We do need to do a better job of marketing all of our schools.”

Desert Sun Academy Principal Bert Honigman said they were actively recruiting students and have received open enrollment applications from Deer Valley, Paradise Valley and Scottsdale unified school districts.

The theme repeated by parents at meetings was “rigor, rigor, rigor,” said Honigman, “Parents want their children challenged constantly.”

Barrett spoke again during public comment to say she had major concerns about the district “choosing the haves and have nots,” and asked, “Aren’t we all good enough? Only one school is going K-8. Are the rest of us missing out?”

kent frisonDuring a budget update, Associate Superintendent of Finance Kent Frison said he believes the loss of ADM (Average Daily Maintenance) may increase to 100.

What that translates to in English is, the district will lose more state funding because instead of 90 students leaving the district, the number is closer to 100.

When Clancy asked what the override money was being used for since the district received state funding for full-day kindergarten, Frison said it was used for teachers’ salaries for first, second and third grade to lower class sizes.

“Without that money,” Frison said, “it would increase class sizes by two to three students,” while the override “brought class sizes down from 25 to about 23.”

He said the decrease in “formula funding” of approximately $400,000 due to the loss of approximately 90 ADM (students) was likely to increase.

The decrease in the K-3 override, which he attributed to the “election failure,” would amount to an additional $321,520 reduction for next year.

Additionally, Frison said there was an increase to both the employer and employee state retirement contribution rate of .45 percent, affecting all employees, who pay 9.4 percent of their pay into the system, which the district matches.

Career Ladder phase down of .5 percent per year is estimated to be approximately $126,473 less for the 2010/2011 school year.

Frison said the district was looking at reductions of anywhere from $850,000 to $1.8 million plus whatever other actions the legislature takes. He added there were “some fairly dire projections out there.”

Miller updated the board on the Cactus Shadows Prep Academy, citing it was “a work in progress.”

She stated the board voted in January to use Chandler Unified School District’s Hamilton Prep Academy as a model.

According to Miller it is an honors program and applicants will need to be tested in reading, math and other criteria, yet to be determined, in order for students to be accepted.

Hamilton offers Mandarin Chinese. Miller said, “We’re looking into it, but our world language offering will be Spanish.”