NewsNortheast Valley News Paradise Valley News


Paradise Valley Unified School District approves first step toward closing four schools

The recommendation to close the schools is due to declining enrollment
Posted at 10:22 PM, Dec 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-09 00:44:24-05

PARADISE VALLEY, AZ — The Paradise Valley Unified School District approved the first step toward closing four schools during a board meeting Thursday. The district said this has been months in the making, and the recommendation is due to declining enrollment.

According to PVUSD's presentation, the district has lost over 700 K-6 students in the last two years for various reasons. The district also projected they'll lose even more.

"As a parent, it's devastating," said Sara Huddleson. "It's heartbreaking."

This week, she said she got an email from her children's principal at Desert Springs Preparatory. It informed parents that their school was one of four the district was considering closing.

“There were tears,” said Huddleson. “My 7-year-old simply said, ‘Why would they close our school we have the best school?’”

Teachers like Nicole Burg wondered the same. Burg is a 6th-grade teacher at Desert Springs. She watched her four kids attend the school before changing careers to teach.

“We really tried to set ourselves as a specialty school,” said Burg.

She said the news has been devastating to the community.

The other three schools being considered for closure are Hidden Hills Elementary, Sunset Canyon Elementary, and Vista Verde Middle School.

The plan would also mean boundary changes for more than 10 schools.

“I come here tonight to beg you to vote no on this plan to close our beloved school,” said one Vista Verde teacher who spoke at the meeting Thursday.

Staff and parents from those four schools showed up to the board meeting, hoping to voice their concerns. Some teachers were emotional, and others even brought letters from their students.

Some blamed the state vouchers program or affordable housing for the decline in enrollment.

Diving deeper, ABC15 found that in the last year of the Universal ESA program, more than 2,300 students living in the school district started using private school vouchers. It is unclear how many of those students previously attended public school.

“My students are worth more than $600,000,” said another Vista Verde teacher.

During the meeting, the district said $600,000 would be saved for each school closed.

Superintendent Troy Bales addressed the crowd at the meeting multiple times. He said this has been in the works for months and a closure committee worked to make these recommendations.

“It has to be a conversation that we have because we have declined in enrollment,” said Supt. Bales.

He also said the area does not have affordable single-family dwellings popping up like in other parts of the Valley.

Josh Atkins with the Paradise Valley Education Association said the situation in the area is really "the perfect storm" of different issues.

"I think that combination of things along with the aging population of our district," said Atkins.

Atkins told ABC15 he was part of the closure committee, helping with the tough conversations that went on for months.

"We care very deeply about this," said Atkins. "This was not an easy decision. We looked over as many options and [to] keep as many schools open as possible, but still be good stewards of the tax payers' money."

Supt. Bales emphasized to the crowd that an approval Thursday only gives the green light to more conversation.

“This is the hardest decision I’ve had to make,” said Board Member Kerry Baker.

Board members did ask detailed questions but ultimately approved moving forward 4-1.

They stressed this decision does not mean the schools are closing yet but instead means community forums and a public hearing for January 23, 2024, can be set.

It was stressed with the recommended plan that there would be no staff layoffs.

The final vote would not come until February 8, 2024.

ABC15 reached out to State Superintendent Tom Horne’s office regarding the potential impact of the Universal ESA Program.

“We have no statistical evidence to show that the ESA program has had an impact on these four schools,” said a spokesperson.