San Marcos parents get good news on school’s future - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

San Marcos parents get good news on school’s future

February 27th, 2023 SanTan Sun News
San Marcos parents get good news on school’s future

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Chandler Unified School District Superintendent Frank Narducci gave some good news to the San Marcos community at a Feb. 21 informational meeting.

“As a result of your input, feedback and recommendations and conversations with leaders in this community, we believe the best path forward is to maintain San Marcos Elementary as a pre-K through sixth grade campus.”

The “Save San Marcos” signs some people brought would not be needed since the district does not plan to recommend closing the school.

However, Narducci made it clear there may come a time when the school could not be saved and asked for the community’s help in making sure they don’t reach that point.

“We know that typically schools with enrollment below 300 students experience increased challenges in providing equitable opportunities for all students,” Narducci said. “For that reason, should the enrollment at San Marcos drop in the 200 range, the district recommendation will be to repurpose the school.”

San Marcos had the lowest enrollment of the nine schools that are under consideration for repurposing.

Its 2021-2022 100-day enrollment, which is the number the state uses to determine funding since students come and go all year, was 357. The school has a capacity of 840.

The meeting was the second at San Marcos. There have been similar meetings at the other eight schools the district is considering repurposing. The district said it needs to address declining enrollment in the years to come at Bologna, Conley, Hull, Frye, Galveston, Navarrete, and Sanborn elementary schools and Shumway Leadership Academy.

No decision has been made on the fate of any of the nine schools. District staffers currently are engaging the schools’ respective communities and will make recommendations to the Governing Board at a later date.

While high school enrollment is above capacity, the earliest grades are starting to show signs of a downward trend.

During an Aug. 10 study session, district officials said there were a number of factors.

The biggest reason is the lack of affordable housing in Chandler. Young families with children under five mostly cannot afford to live in the city. They are moving to places where they can buy a house.

That same factor has been cited by a demographer as one of the reasons for student enrollment declines in the Kyrene and Tempe Union school districts, which serve parts of northern and western Chandler.

Chandler’s population also is getting older, and for the most part many of the families that remain either have older children now filling up the high schools or their children have gone on to college or started working.

CUSD has about 45,000 students. Based on birth rates, officials expect the enrollment to drop 270 students per year, with the strongest declines taking place in 2024-2025 and 2027-2028.

Another factor is the growth of charter schools. There are 18 charter schools with a total of about 10,400 K-12 students that operate within the district’s boundaries.

Declining enrollment means the district will get less funding from the state. To deal with that reality, the district launched a repurposing committee at the start of this school year to examine underutilized schools.

It also committed to rebuilding one of the schools on the list, Galveston.

Since Galveston (to the northeast) and San Marcos (to the southwest) both serve the downtown region and are on the list, one possible solution would be combining the two. Galveston had 443 students last year, but had the lowest percentage capacity at 42%. San Marcos is at 43% capacity.

That percentage prompted community fears about San Marcos’ future.

The new $23.6 million Galveston school is currently in design. CUSD officials hope to have it ready for use in the 2024-2025 school year.

District facilitators at last week’s meeting led participants in a discussion about what the community wants – and what can the district reasonably do to attract more students to San Marcos so it wouldn’t have to close.

Repurposing doesn’t have to mean closing. The district has been repurposing its buildings for years. Goodman Elementary became Chandler Traditional Academy-Goodman. Erie Elementary is now Arizona College Prep Middle School.

Knox and Weinberg elementary schools are both gifted academies today.

San Marcos Elementary serves a large Latino population. The meeting this month was held in both Spanish and English and both of Chandler’s elected Latino representatives attended, City Council member Angel Encinas and CUSD Governing Board member Patti Serrano. Encinas graduated from San Marcos.

Narducci made it clear if it is going to stay open then the community needs to help district officials decide how best to attract more students.

“School administration and staff, along with the community, are now tasked with brainstorming programming and engagement opportunities to grow and sustain enrollments here at San Marcos, so all students can receive an equitable educational experience,” Narducci said.