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What if Santa Rita could join another district?

Posted at 7:10 PM, Jan 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 12:46:06-05

The education crisis in Arizona still lingers as legislators head back to the capitol next week.

A state lawmaker is drafting a measure that could change the educational landscape in Arizona. It could pave the way for struggling schools, such as TUSD's Santa Rita High School, to join a different district, such as Vail.

Santa Rita High School has been hanging on for the past few years. It has the capacity to housed 2,070 students, but now the number hovers around 444, which means there's a lot of empty space.

That could be appealing to an adjacent district, such as Vail, that's bursting at the seams.

Vail has $28 million to spend on a new high school, but it will cost $63 million to build a new one.

Arizona State lawmaker Todd Clodfelter (LD 10) had an idea.

"We don't have to spend taxpayer dollars to build a new facility when 10 miles down the road, there's one that's under-enrolled.  I feel my job as a state legislator, and I would expect the school board to feel the same way is to offer the best education to our students possible and as the lowest expense to the taxpayer," said Clodfelter.

Clodfelter also said Santa Rita is a financial burden to TUSD.

A comparison in the 2018 proposed budget shows the cost per student at Tucson High, a school over capacity, is just about $5,000.

At Santa Rita, the cost per student is more than $9,200 --- meaning it costs the district nearly two times the amount to teach students at Santa Rita.

Santa Rita also under-performs academically. 

The overall AZMerit scores in 2016/17 school year reveal they hit rock bottom in Math and English Language Arts, with virtually no sign of growth, which contributed to the entire district's overall lower performance in Math, English Language Arts, and Science in 2016.

The Vail School District consistently perform higher than the state-wide average. 

Clodfelter says same scenarios exist across the state.

"This doesn't just apply to TUSD and Vail. There are other schools in the state of Arizona that are kind of in similar circumstances."

Rumors of Clodfelter's idea reached TUSD Board President Michael Hicks.

Though Clodfelter says it's gaining support from other districts and fellow legislators in Arizona, Hicks told us last week he plans to fight any effort to snatch Santa Rita from TUSD.

Hicks says schools are om the midst of being revitalized with robust early college programs that include career and technical education offerings.

"I'm going to be a champion of Santa Rita. It's the last stronghold of our high schools on the east -- southeast side," said Hicks.

Clodfelter's legislation would take the decision to switch districts out of the hands of board members. Instead, the community would "vote" on the school's fate.

"The reality is if my bill is successful, it just allows the people the make a choice. If in fact down the road Santa Rita improves according to TUSD's plan, the people in the community may say we don't need to change.  We don't need to go into Vail. We like what's happening at Santa Rita, and we want to support that," said Clodfelter.

He says he's spoken with superintendent Calvin Baker about the idea.

"He's very enthusiastic about the potential. He's open-minded. We'd really like to something like that happen because it saves the taxpayers and allows them to expand quickly. It's one of their needs, but at the same time, he wants to make sure it's a good thing for everyone involved. He understands the process and knows it's going to take time. Consequently, Vail district boundaries would expand encompassing that same geographic area that encompasses Santa Rita at this point," said Clodfelter./

Clodfelter says he plans to introduce the bill this legislative session. We'll continue to track the developments and keep you posted.