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Tucson board orders 11 schools closed to save cash

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Tucson Unified School District board has formally ordered 11 schools to be shut down as it works to close a $17 million budget shortfall.

Thursday night's vote spares three schools that had been on a list of 14 elementary, middle and high schools the board had listed as closure targets.

Parents pleaded for their local schools to be saved and board members were torn as well but went ahead with the vote.

The schools ordered closed Thursday are Brichta, Menlo Park, Corbett, Lyons and Schumaker elementary schools, Wakefield, Maxwell, Carson and Hohokam middle schools, Fort Lowell/Townsend K-8 and Howenstine High School.

KGUN-TV reports Sewell, Cragin, and Manzo elementary schools were dropped from the closure list during the board's meeting.

The votes to close schools were met with tears and emotional pleas from students, parents and other community members who urged the board to reconsider during a four-hour special meeting held at Catalina Magnet High School.

Some of the criteria used to identify schools for possible closure included: high cost savings from the closure, low academic performance, lack of success in attracting families, weak prospects for turnaround in enrollment and academic performance, and likelihood of reducing or at least not exacerbating ethnic imbalances within schools.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that a savings of about $4 million is expected to be derived from the closures, leaving the district to consider other measures _ such as program and staff reductions, central office and administration reductions, salary/benefit adjustments and class size changes- to operate in the black.

Had all 14 of the campuses on the list been approved for closure, the savings would have been about $5 million per year.

TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said the school closures are difficult but necessary.

Tucson Unified, which has about 100 schools, has 13,000 empty seats throughout the district- the equivalent of 26 empty elementary schools.

``Closing schools will build a stronger foundation for success,'' Pedicone said. ``That may seem counterintuitive when it's your school that may be affected, but not closing schools means more and deeper cuts to programs, services and operations that take away from student support.''

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