MUSD sixth-graders to stay in elementary; wheels in motion to create single junior high
By Christia Gibbons
The MUSD school board voted Wednesday to retain sixth-grade students in the elementary schools starting with the 2013-2014 school year.
Board President Torri Anderson voted for the change, as did Vice President Patti Coutre and board member Veronica Gay. Scott Bartle abstained from voting saying a decision on the matter was premature. Board member Leslie Carlyle-Burnett was absent.
Also Wednesday, the board delayed a decision on changing full-day kindergarten and set in motion closing a school.
Bartle said he favored retaining the sixth-graders in the elementary schools if research showed that to be the best decision, and called on fellow board members to delay the vote until such research could be provided.
He said the vote to retain sixth-graders at the elementary schools had, so far, been discussed in conjunction with closing one of the middle schools, which the board is considering to shore up an expected $1 million deficit in the upcoming budget. The current budget is $31.6 million.
Anderson said parents at a school town hall last year favored sixth-grade retention. Bartle pointed out the board had not acted on the suggestion until the question of having to close a middle school or elementary school came up during 2013-2014 budget talks.
“I see these as two separate issues,” Anderson said. In pushing for the board to approve the move, she added, “Our fifth-grade parents already are enrolling their kids in Kyrene and Chandler.”
Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut said during his talks with community members on the budget situation, “feedback for parents was entirely positive” in moving sixth-graders out of the middle schools.
Also Wednesday, board members tabled a decision about half-day kindergarten.
Bartle wanted to make a motion to approve full-day kindergarten with half of the day financed through tuition. MUSD has provided free, full-day kindergarten for the past three years when the state was paying for half-day kindergarten, but is considering going to half-day as part of the budget-shortfall fix.
The only legal action the board could take Wednesday was to vote to go to half-day kindergarten without including the tuition-based half-day option because of the wording on the agenda. Bartle said he wanted to make sure parents realize the board supports full-day kindergarten.
By going to a tuition-based half day paired with a free half-day, the district could save $480,000.
Previously the figure of $130 per pupil per month tuition was being discussed, but Chestnut said better calculations put the fee at $145, including transportation.
Whenever the board votes on eliminating free full-day kindergarten, Bartle said, “We need to commit to reinstating (free) full-day kindergarten in the future.”A timetable was set to possibly closing a middle school, which could save the district $542,000. State statutes outline the procedure for closing a school including parental/guardian notification and two public meetings, including a public hearing.
Both meetings are scheduled during regular school board meetings March 13 and March 27.
The board has not named which middle school to close – Desert Wind or Maricopa Wells.
Chestnut called closing a middle school a chance to focus on one junior high school and bringing it up academically. Currently both middle schools have state grades of “D.”
“This gives us an opportunity to create a new junior high school with a new name … new school colors, traditions and a new culture,” he said. And, he added, the transition to high school could be easier on eighth-graders coming from one junior high school.