TUSD Closes 11 Schools, Spares Manzo

Kids

At last night’s TUSD Governing Board, the last of the year before a newly elected board takes office, board members voted to close 11 schools as part of the $17 million budget shortfall. The issue is undoubtedly a complicated one, but the PCFA decided to take a stand on behalf of one school, because of the ground-breaking Farm-to-School work it’s been doing.

That school is Manzo Elementary, located on the west side, in Barrio Hollywood. It is one of a small handful of schools that will, in the coming year, be in a position to grow a substantial amount of its own food and serve it through the cafeteria. Our leadership council wrote a letter to the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, vocalizing our support for the school — one of an original 14 schools slated for closure.

Nick Henry, a PCFA Leadership Council member, attended an open meeting on Dec. 8 and read our letter from PCFA aloud to the Governing Board. In addition, Manzo parents spoke out, making an eloquent case for the ecology program there. Letters of support poured in, and leaders at both the Community Food Bank and the University of Arizona made known their concern about the potential closing.

At last night’s meeting, TUSD recognized this outpouring of support, and acknowledged the community’s investment, even putting a dollar amount on it ($200,000 in equipment and infrastructure, made primarily by partners and fundraising done by the school itself.)  They unanimously voted to keep Manzo Elementary open, with the recommendation that the school become a district-run charter, a status that would enable it to garner more funds from the state, but may not substantially change the programming there.

While the Manzo decision was a relief to all of those involved, overall, it was a sad day for education in Arizona. Wakefield Middle School, another school that’s been doing AMAZING work in this area, was among the 11 the board voted to shut down.  Three more schools on the west side (Brichta, Menlo, and Maxwell) will also cease to exist, at least in their current forms.

This round of the battle is over, but there will probably be more to come.  Next month, two new board members (both of whom campaigned on a platform of NOT closing schools and are replacing pro-closure members) will take office.  They may well have something to say about this, and a decision to close any school still has to pass desegregation criteria based on a judge’s approval.

We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, thanks to all those who came out in support of Manzo and its innovative Farm-to-School Program.

Food Bank Receives $98,000 Farm-to-School Grant

Discovery Day and Aquaponics at Davis

Did you know that as recently as last year, students in Pima County weren’t allowed to eat the food they’d grown in their school gardens?  I know!  Ridiculous, right?  Fortunately, over the past year and half, a number of positive changes have taken place and here’s the latest: the USDA has awarded the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona $98,000 to ensure that local food starts making it into school cafeterias.

This Farm-to-School grant will provide the Food Bank with funds to partner with Tucson Unified School District to work on getting fresh, local food into schools in two basic ways:

The Community Food Bank will continue supporting school gardens (just as they have been doing), but with the added condition that schools will be trained on best practices in handling foods to maximize food safety.  Small scale agriculture has a good safety record, but we don’t want to chance the type of contamination issues we’ve seen in the industrial food system of late (think peanut butter, spinach, etc.).

TUSD will seek out and begin purchasing food from local producers to serve on a district level.  Menus, which are planned a year in advance, will be adjusted to follow our local growing season.  This has the added benefit of ensuring that federal dollars from the school meals program are invested into our local economy.

Historically, both the school meals program and food banks have worked to end hunger and malnutrition in America, so it’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense.  We also know that kids who know how to garden, cook and are able to eat fresh food in the cafeteria, are more likely to live healthy, hunger-free lives.

– Nick Henry, PCFA Leadership Council Member and Farm-to-Child Program Coordinator at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona