Redistricting | News
Tucson District Uses Geovisual Analytics To Ease Budget Cuts
The Sunnyside Unified School District in the southern suburbs of Tucson, AZ, got some tough news late last year: Voters had rejected a budget override election and, despite the fact that enrollment in the 18,000-student district remained steady, it would have to do more with less.
It would have to close one elementary school and one middle school, move all sixth-grade classes from middle to elementary schools, redraw school boundaries and change feeder patterns that would affect more than 10,000 students and possibly move 2,700 of them to new schools.
And, to keep promises about transparency, it would have to have a plan in place for the 2014-15 school year by the time the 2013-14 school year ended in mid-May.
The school district called on GuideK12's geovisual analytics software to help. The software allowed the district to take all the data it had about students and households and visualize it with an interactive map. GuideK12's promise to the district was that it could run as many "what if" scenarios as it wanted with real-time data.
Not only did it allow administrators to come up with all the variables they might have for changing things, eventually — when introduced to the public — it would help them understand why their students might have to change schools and what the alternatives were.
"GuideK12 was instrumental in getting all stakeholders on board throughout what could have been an incredibly difficult process," said Sunnyside Public Information Director Mary Veres. "The platform gave us the ability to show real-time maps of the potential scenarios within our district to increase stakeholders' understanding, help answer questions and gain their support by effectively translating data."
The district was able to reveal the changes to the public by the end of the last school year and implement them this fall.
"We knew the changes were going to be disruptive," said Pam Betten, the district's director of middle schools. "It went extremely well overall, especially now that school is underway without a hitch.
"We attribute much of that to strategic planning at the district office, the priority we put on transparency and the choice to use GuideK12. These are not easy changes for any district to go through, but Sunnyside has emerged stronger."
Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.