Preface: This article was originally written for a Public Affairs class on February 16, 2010. Today, the FUSD announced they would be delaying closure of South Beaver Elementary along with three other schools by 60 days. But it’s only postponing the inevitable and feeding the tension between parents and teachers and the administration. (See: this article from the Arizona Daily Sun.)
Historic South Beaver Elementary will be celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer, that is, if the Flagstaff Unified School District doesn’t close the school as a cost-cutting measure.
The FUSD school board held a series of community forums in late January and early February at schools across Flagstaff to ask the public for input on how to deal with budget cuts at the state level.
South Beaver Elementary hosted one of those meetings on February 6. Parents and board members worked under tightly-wound emotions as proposals for imminent school closures were presented. Parents were worried when it became apparent that most of the elementary closure plans included their school.
“It’s going to be a situation that’s tragic,” said Mike Cromer, a teacher at South Beaver since 1976. “It’s going to tear families apart. It’s going to displace children.”
School board members have been trying to empathize with parents who face the necessary closures.
“It’s an emotional topic,” said Deborah Harris, president of the school board. “People are concerned about their kids and where they’re going. All of us are parents. We understand that. We’re just going to make the best decision that we possibly can.”
The Arizona state legislature is likely to reduce public school funding for next fiscal year, and Flagstaff is expecting between $6 and $13 million in lost funds. As a result, FUSD is being forced to close some schools.
“We’re looking at a budget deficit of anywhere from six to thirteen, maybe even fifteen percent,” said Harris.
Factors that are taken into account when closing a school are its efficiency level, capacity, age of the building, and administrative expenses, among others. But some parents think other qualities of the schools are coming into play.
“All of the elementary schools that are up for closure are in low income areas of Flagstaff,” said Nancy Edmondson, parent of two children attending South Beaver.
“We didn’t specifically say, ‘Because you’re low income and ethnic minority, we’re targeting your school,’” said Harris. “That’s ridiculous.”
Though emotions are running high, the one common ground parents and the district have is the intent to cut costs.
“We’re going through the rest of the budget with a fine-toothed comb, line by line,” said Harris. “We can’t operate in the red [by law.]”
“I know there’s difficulties,” said Cromer. “I know that they have problems.”
But Cromer, like many parents, feels South Beaver’s history, culture, and programs make it a valuable asset for the district.
“[South Beaver] has been a beacon of light. It’s a place where they [the children] feel comfortable,” said Cromer. “It’s a refuge for the citizens, not just the children.”
“The secretary, the principal, the teachers – They all know the kids by name,” said Edmondson. “[South Beaver] is a very tight-knit family and they help each other out.”
Schools must be closed regardless of emotional ties, though, and the FUSD school board is leaving emotional ties out of the decision-making process.
“All of the schools in our district have, what I would call, good points to them,” said Harris. “They do something that is special or unique. It doesn’t make it better, doesn’t make it worse. It makes it different.”
The school board is expected to make closure and zoning decisions on March 9, and budget cuts will be finalized at some point in June.
Listen to Mike Cromer deliver his prepared statement to the FUSD board:[audio:http://kyleanderson.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Mike.mp3]