Base seeks alternative after federal judge blocks TUSD action
By Carol Ann Alaimo
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/266846
Stymied last year in a bid to reopen a TUSD school on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, military leaders are taking another tack.
D-M leaders are looking for an existing charter school that wants to open a middle school on the military installation.
If successful, the move would circumvent a 2007 federal court ruling that prevented the Tucson Unified School District from opening a middle school on base for fear it would fuel racial inequality.
A new charter school at D-M could siphon scores of students — and the funding they bring — from TUSD.
D-M spokeswoman 1st Lt. Mary Pekas said military leaders still want a middle school on base to serve the children of D-M personnel. And because TUSD can't legally honor that request, base officials looked for an alternative.
"We want to present the parents here on base with more options," Pekas said.
Some D-M children now ride the bus for up to an hour attending various schools outside the gates of the military installation, she said.
With a middle school on base, "parents could more easily be involved with their children's education." she said.
D-M already has a TUSD elementary school on base, Borman Elementary. In 2006, TUSD closed the base's other elementary school, Smith Elementary, due to falling enrollment, and said then that it might be reopened as a middle school.
But minority rights groups challenged the reopening plan in court, and a judge blocked it, ruling that it would lead to racial inequity.
TUSD would have ended up with two racially identifiable middle schools in the neighborhood: one at D-M with mostly non-minority students, and the other, nearby Naylor Middle School, with a heavily minority population, the judge said.
But the 2007 court ruling only applies to TUSD, which has been under a court desegregation order since 1978 to encourage racial balance in its schools. A charter school, independent of of the district, would not be bound by the ruling.
TUSD official Albert Siqueiros, a former principal at Smith, the elementary school that closed on the base, said D-M's decision to pursue a charter school is bad news for TUSD.
"Obviously, we are disappointed," said Siqueiros, who called it "unfair" that the district was blocked from opening a middle school at the site, paving the way for a charter school to come in and drain students from the TUSD system.
D-M officials couldn't say for sure how many military students might attend a new charter middle school, but they noted that when the question was asked a year or so ago, about 200 students expressed interest.
Siqueiros said he hopes some D-M parents will choose to keep their children in TUSD schools rather than switching. "We still have many schools off-base that can provide a excellent experience for military families."
The TUSD middle school closest to the air base, Naylor, at 1701 S. Columbus Blvd., has received a failing grade from the state since 2006, though officials there have pledged to turn things around this year. The school has a large number of students who are poor or are struggling with English.
D-M officials expect the new charter school will open next August.
● Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.