Panel seeks to rid current school district system
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 16, 2006

Pat Kossan

A state commission released startling proposals this afternoon to splinter Valley high school districts into new and smaller K-12 districts.

The proposed new district boundaries will fuel debates already at a high pitch from Tempe Union to Glendale Union high school districts.

Under one proposal, Phoenix Union High School District would disappear and become five new and separate K-12 districts. Glendale Union and Tempe Union high school districts also could go away and be reshaped into new K-12 districts. Martin Shultz, a utility executive who heads the commission, said the goal is to improve the efficiency of student learning through K-12 curriculum and teacher training. To both benefit kids and save money, districts should be no smaller than 6,000 students and no larger than 60,000, he said.

The Phoenix Union proposal surprised even the district's retiring superintendent, Raj Chopra.

Chopra supports the commission's goal of linking high school districts to the elementary schools that feed into their campuses. But he worries that five small districts could not find the cash, the school board leadership, the talented administrators and teachers to make them work. He also worries that the district could segregate wealthier neighborhoods into one district and poorer neighborhoods into others.

"Anything that unifies effectively needs to look at how well it serves the best needs of the students, and that's student achievement," Chopra said. At the most, he could support breaking Phoenix Union and its neighborhood elementary districts into two, maybe three new K-12 districts.

The statewide School District Redistricting Commission also will examine proposals to combine high school districts with their neighborhood elementary schools into much larger school districts. For example, a district combining Phoenix Union with its 13 different elementary districts to make a 120,000-student district, topping Arizona's largest district, Mesa Unified, by 40,000 kids.

The commission plans to hold a public hearing 2 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Arizona State Capitol.

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