Mount Tipton, other schools face changes

Kingman board trying to make up budget hole of at least $1 million

AHRON SHERMAN/Miner<br>
Mount Tipton school.

AHRON SHERMAN/Miner<br> Mount Tipton school.

The middle and high school portions of Mount Tipton would close, La Senita Elementary would be mostly shuttered and everyone at Palo Christi Elementary would be temporarily relocated as part of a plan to trim at least $1 million from next year's Kingman Unified School District's budget.

The school district faces a $1 million to $1.9 million budget shortfall for the 2013-2014 school year, and it got the go ahead from the school board Tuesday to start a process that could end with these things happening.

Kingman Unified School District Director of Finance Wanda Hubbard laid out two scenarios for the board at Tuesday's five-hour budget workshop. One outlined a best-case scenario - a shortfall of a little more than $1 million - and the other laid out a worst-case scenario, a $1.9 million shortfall.

To deal with the former, Hubbard, with the backing of staff, recommended:

• Converting Mount Tipton School from a K-12 to K-6

• Closing La Senita Elementary and sending its students to KUSD's other elementary schools

• Temporarily relocating the students and staff of Palo Christi Elementary to the campus of Desert Willow Elementary.

"We're talking about a major shift for the whole district," said KUSD Superintendent Roger Jacks.

The shift would save the district $1.1 million, but chances are the decision to restructure Mount Tipton won't go over well in the communities the school serves.

The district, however, is not prepared to abandon the school's middle school and high school programs altogether. The plan is to offer the Kingman Online Learning Academy at the school to students in seventh through 12th grade, Hubbard said. Students not interested in online schooling would need to be bused into Kingman.

The future of Mount Tipton was the topic of contentious discussion last year and the year before. With the district on the verge of restructuring the school last year, the community served by Mount Tipton turned out in full force to argue against the plan and even propose several of their own solutions.

In the end, the school board approved a two-year plan that allowed Mount Tipton to remain open and addressed many of the financial issues that brought the discussion to the surface in the first place, including the disparity in per student spending, the school's attendance and membership issues and the school improvement grant that sunsets at the end of this school year and was worth $350,000 a year while it was active.

Rebecca Smith, a Dolan Springs resident with four children who attend the school, was instrumental in staving off the restructuring last year, and she has a renewed interest in the issue this year.

She said the community, school and district were supposed to work together to address Mount Tipton's issues. But that's not what happened, she said.

"You can't fix what you don't address," she said.

Not one grant was sought in the last year despite the fact that grant funding is one of the only ways the school could increase its revenue, she said. Though community members continually promised to be part of the grant-seeking process, Smith said it didn't happen because the district failed to provide a framework where community members and school employees could work together.

The other way to increase school funding is to have more students.

"I'm still waiting for the district to come to us with any sort of growth plan," she said.

Jacks declined to comment on Smith's assessment.

There are 66 high school level students who attend Mount Tipton, and currently the student/teacher ratio is eight to one, according to KUSD budget documents. Additionally, the district is spending $13,706 per high school student at Mount Tipton this year, but it spends $5,078 a student at Kingman High.

To be fair, the district is spending $11,713 a student at Lee Williams High School, but that number will come down as the school grows. Currently, there are only freshmen students at the school.

Smith said a town hall meeting at Mount Tipton will be scheduled in the next couple of weeks. There, she and other community members will unveil a proposal that addresses Mount Tipton issues as well as the issues facing the entire district. She wants as many people to attend as possible, but she wants people to come with solutions and ideas instead of vitriol, as was the case last year.

The rest of the district's best-case scenario recommendation is complicated.

The plan is to move Palo Christi students and staff to Desert Willow, which is currently being used for the district's pre-kindergarten program. Relocating the school won't save the district much money, but it will give KUSD the opportunity to fix the plethora of structural issues at the school, including a damaged roof, should the board decide fixing the school is something it wants to do.

In turn, the pre-kindergarten program would be moved to the kindergarten wing of La Senita Elementary.

The rest of La Senita would then be closed and its students would be dispersed throughout the district. This move would save the district $600,000 and move students to higher performing schools within KUSD. La Senita was the only elementary school in the district that received a C from the Arizona Department of Education last year - the others pulled in As and Bs.

The district is attempting to come up with more money by maximizing the capacity of its buildings, Jacks said. Many of the teachers at La Senita will follow their students to other schools, but there's no guarantee that all employees at the school will keep their jobs, Jacks said.

Many issues put the district in this situation, most notably the continued drop in student enrollment and the depletion of its reserves as the district made up for cuts in state spending.

In Hubbard's worst-case scenario, the district would need to cover a $1.9 million shortfall. To do that, it would eliminate its teacher on assignment program, which frees up principals to devote more attention to education, at the middle schools. Currently, Kingman Middle School is the only one that has this program but the goal for next year is to implement it at White Cliffs Middle School, too. This would save $100,000.

Also, KUSD would avoid creating a continuation program for its elementary schools, eliminate teacher lane changes - which is supposed to allow teachers to earn more money by taking approved college classes - and cut library as a curriculum out of the district. These three options combined would save another $765,000.

Hubbard said chances are the district will find itself somewhere in between the best- and worst-case scenarios once Arizona's 2013-2014 budget is finalized.

The board is expected to vote on any changes at its meeting the second Tuesday of March.