Are school closures in Scottsdale's future?

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Scottsdale Unified School District is looking at shutting down some of its schools in order to save money and close a multi-million dollar budget gap.

Closures are just one option the school board will discuss at Tuesday evening's regular meeting. No vote will be taken. Board members simply will hear presentations on school capacity and enrollment trends in the district.

While no specific schools have been mentioned as candidates for closure or consolidation, the board will be looking at some campuses that are underutilized.

The state School Facilities Board sets a formula to determine what a school's enrollment should be based on the space available.

According to that formula, Hohokam, Tonalea, Navajo and Yavapai elementary schools are below 50 percent capacity. Cherokee, Kiva, Laguna, Redfield, Sequoya and Copper Ridge elementary schools and Cocopah, Desert Canyon and Mountainside middle schools and Coronado High School all are below 60 percent.

If the board decides that closures or consolidations are the way to go to balance the 2014-2015 budget, the district has to give the community 10 days' notice before hosting a meeting to discuss any action. The district then has to give another 10 days' notice before the final vote.

At this point, the board is exploring its needs and options so there is no timetable for any decisions or actions. The items on the agenda for Tuesday evening are yearly discussions.

Because it's still early in the process, all of the budget discussions are still preliminary. Last year, SUSD did not finalize its budget decisions until the spring.

The district's budget committee, which is comprised of staff, parents and community members, is scheduled to present its recommendations to the board next month. The board, however, is not obligated to follow those recommendations.

One unknown factor in the situation right now is whether Arizona's public schools will get inflation funding from the state Legislature. In the case of SUSD, that money could wipe out the projected budget deficit with some left over.

That inflation funding was mandated by the Arizona Supreme Court in a September ruling on a lawsuit filed in response to the Legislature's failure to account for inflation when determining base-level funding for public schools in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 budgets.

"The state’s failure to fully fund inflation over the past three years has meant a loss to Arizona students of nearly $300 million," according to the Arizona Education Association.

While that money will not be repaid, the ruling means public schools should see an increase in education funding for the coming year.