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Oct 23, 2012 1:00 AM by Danielle Lerner

South Tucson parents concerned over possible school closures

SOUTH TUCSON - Many TUSD parents and students will be watching Tuesday as board members get their first look at the recommended criteria for school closures.

Consolidation is one of many options on the table to help close the district's $17 million budget gap. The final decision is not until December, but some parents from Ochoa and Mission View Elementary Schools in South Tucson say they are particularly concerned.

"I kind of went down the wrong path for a long time and I think if I would have stayed in our neighborhood schools, I think it would have been a way better outcome for me," said Cesar Aguirre, who has two daughters at Ochoa Community Magnet School. "That's part of the reason I drive 40 minutes every day to bring my kids to this school, because I know that this school is the best school for them."

Aguirre is one of several parents fighting to keep Ochoa Elementary School off the chopping block for good. Olga Angulo is another.

"The community is part of the school and the school is part of the community," Angulo said.

Both credit Ochoa's unique Reggio-inspired curriculum. It is built around critical thinking, character building and research. Mission View Elementary is another school with close ties to this small South Tucson community. Still, parents fear the schools' recent "D" and "C" letter grades from the state will make them candidates for closure.

"I don't think that's fair for the children," said Angulo. "Just get a one snapshot of what they're learning and what they're doing and base everything off of that."

TUSD administrators insist they are considering several factors in addition to achievement. The list includes things like operating costs, facility conditions, community ties and capacity. They say declining enrollment has left the district with 13,000 empty seats, costing close to $500 each.

"That's about $6.5 million we're spending just to support capacity that isn't being used," said Bryant Nodine, the district's planning services program manager.

At this point every school is being considered but Board Member Adelita Grijalva wants parents in South Tucson to know she hear them.

"They really are hubs for the community," Grijalva said. "I appreciate that and I will be working very hard to ensure that neither of those schools are closed."

Board members will not actually decide if schools will close until after the November election. They are waiting to see what happens with Prop 204 so they know how much funding to expect for next year.

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