Parents, community vocal to MUSD: 'Save Thornydale'

Packed house for meeting on closure of Thornydale Elementary. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Packed house for meeting on closure of Thornydale Elementary. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Published: Mar. 28, 2018 at 2:28 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 28, 2018 at 5:57 AM MST
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(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Marana Unified School District is one step closer to closing four decades of education at one of its schools, but they first heard an earful from the neighborhood.

A public meeting was held Tuesday night, March 27, at Thornydale Elementary School on Oldfather Road. For more than two hours, parents took the podium to express their frustrations with the school board's decision.

Tucson News Now first told you in early March about the Marana Unified School District Governing Board's plans to close the school as early as June 2019.

Board members have declined to speak about the issues at hand with Tucson News Now.

But at Tuesday night's public board meeting the whole crowd heard Superintendent Doug Wilson read a prepared statement about the board's recommendation to close the school because of declining enrollment.

"Recognizing this, District Administration's recommendation to close Thornydale due to declining enrollment is not one that is taken lightly; however, as Superintendent, it is my fiscal responsibility to ensure school sustainability for the 12,200 students we serve and be responsible for the resources entrusted to us by our taxpayers," Wilson read aloud.

He goes on to explain that Thornydale Elementary has had declining enrollment since 1994. There were 733 students enrolled then, compared to 307 now.

Wilson stated 190 of these 307 students live within the Thornydale boundaries, meaning students outside the neighborhood are drawn to the campus. But it also shows how few children live in the supposed aging, surrounding neighborhood.

"As you can see there are a lot of us who care," said fourth grader Jason Pogue.

Some parents spoke for their children with special needs who can't.

"I'm here to represent the kids that don't have a voice," said one parent, standing by her son who is in a wheelchair. "We're the parents of the children that don't have a voice that can tell you how cool Thornydale is, and how many friends they have here."

Those friends could potentially be split up, according to the MUSD recommendation, scattering the roughly 300 current students to nearby schools in the district.

If the MUSD Governing Board votes to close Thornydale Elementary, attendance boundaries would be redrawn to including Quail Run Elementary School and Butterfield Elementary School.

"Both schools are about two miles from Thornydale and transportation would be provided," the district said in a news release.

"In regards to funding, public school districts are funded through the State equalization formula; which means that revenues are solely generated on a per pupil basis. The smaller the enrollment is at a school, the less revenue is generated to support all of the overhead associated with operating that school," Superintendent Wilson stated. "In looking at the possibility of any future growth, there are no new homes projected to be built in the Thornydale community."

It's a fiscal decision, from an aging campus, that Brian Bouffard said is short-sighted. He worries MUSD is not looking at the whole neighborhood picture.

"They're looking at the past and the present. They need to look at the future," he said.

See, while Bouffard may have sent his son to Thornydale a quarter of a century ago, he is currently the owner of the Old Father Inn on Ina Road.

Yes, that's the same Ina Road just around the corner from Thornydale Elementary, that is undergoing millions of dollars in improvements on the interchange at Interstate 10.

"All of Marana, the Mayor and everybody, comes to all the businesses and says, 'Be patient. Wait. Get through this construction.' They need to do the same here at the school," he told Tucson News Now. "With all that going on and all those businesses that are going to grow and prosper - all the growth that's going to happen over there - it's going to bring people into these homes."

The MUSD vote will likely happen at the board's April 12 meeting.

We've been told that all Thornydale teachers, staff, and administrators will continue to have a position within MUSD due to, "attrition at other school sites as well as the opening of the K-8 school in Dove Mountain," a news release said.

But multiple parents made threats at Tuesday's meeting, saying that if Thornydale Elementary closes they will be taking their kids to a new district.

Bouffard knows it's good for business to have the school stick around and the people know it's good for the neighborhood.

A school in the area keeps the community surviving.

"This school is a big part of the neighborhood," Bouffard said. "Right now, with all the road construction going on, they're bailing on the community without giving them a chance to redevelop."

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