What is the Process for Closing a School In Arizona
Arizona school districts are faced with numerous challenges which could potentially lead to the decision to close a school. The factors could include financial hardship, decreased enrollment, prohibitive renovation costs, high maintenance or repair costs, or environmental disasters. Whenever an Arizona school district contemplates closing a school, it must abide by the applicable Arizona Revised Statutes (“A.R.S.”) governing such closure. For the purposes of this article, the process for closing a school in Arizona will refer to completely shuttering a school building, not repurposing the school for different grade levels or redesignating the space for non-classroom teaching purposes.
The applicable statute is found in A.R.S. §15-341(A)(33) which provides that the Governing Board of an Arizona school district shall:
“Provide written notice to the parents or guardians of all students affected in the school district at least ten days prior to a public meeting to discuss closing a school within the school district. The notice shall include the reasons for the proposed closure and the time and place of the meeting. The governing board shall fix a time for a public meeting on the proposed closure no less than ten days before voting in a public meeting to close the school. The school district governing board shall give notice of the time and place of the meeting. At the time and place designated in the notice, the school district governing board shall hear reasons for or against closing the school. The school district governing board is exempt from this paragraph if it is determined by the governing board that the school shall be closed because it poses a danger to the health or safety of the pupils or employees of the school. A governing board may consult with the school facilities board for technical assistance and for information on the impact of closing a school. The information provided from the school facilities board shall not require the governing board to take or not take any action.”
This statute requires three separate public Governing Board meetings in order for an Arizona school district to move forward with closing a school. The first meeting is held to discuss closing the school, the second meeting is to hear from the public regarding the proposed school closure, and the third meeting is to permit the Governing Board to vote on whether or not to actually close the school.
The statute requires that the parents or guardians of “all students affected” by the proposed school closure be notified in writing no less than ten (10) days prior to the scheduled date of the first meeting. The requirement is measured in calendar days, not business days; however the Arizona school district needs to be mindful of dates which fall on holidays or weekends. It can be difficult to determine which students are “affected” by the proposed closure and it is advisable to work with the school district’s legal counsel to make such determinations. Typically included in the group of students “affected” are those students actually attending the school contemplated for closure and the students attending the school where the students displaced by the closure will now be attending. The written notice provided to the parents or guardians of the “affected” students for the first meeting must include the time and place of the meeting as well as the reasons for the closure. The description of the reasons for closure should be sufficient to give the parents or guardians enough information to understand the motivations behind the proposed closure. Crafting this language may be challenging and it is advisable to work with the school district’s legal counsel when drafting it.
The purpose of the second meeting is to provide the public with the opportunity to address the Governing Board and express reasons for or against closing the school. The Governing Board is required to hear all reasons presented for or against closing the school, but reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions may be imposed. The school district is required to provide notice of the time and place of the second meeting, but the statute does not require that this notice only go out to the “affected” parents or guardians. The school district can satisfy this notice requirement by regular posting of an agenda for the meeting, but may want to include the same level of written notice to the “affected” parents or guardians as utilized with the first meeting. It is important to note that the second meeting cannot be scheduled any less than ten (10) calendar days in advance of the third meeting; the third meeting being the meeting at which the Governing Board votes whether or not to actually close the school.
The third meeting is the Governing Board meeting at which the vote to close the school (or not) is actually held. A.R.S. §15-341(A)(33) does not require that the Governing Board provide an opportunity for the public to address the Governing Board regarding the closure during this third meeting. However, individual and unique factual circumstances may warrant the Governing Board hearing from the public further on the proposed school closure. Once the vote is finalized by the Governing Board, then the school district may move forward with closing the school (assuming the vote of the Governing Board was in favor of the closure).
It is worthy of note that the Governing Board may be exempt from the requirements discussed above if the school district can demonstrate (and the Governing Board determines) that the school contemplated for closure is being closed as a result of a danger to the “health or safety of the pupils or employees of the school.” Id. The determination of what is sufficient to support a Governing Board finding that a school poses such a danger to the “health or safety of the pupils or employees of the school” is based on the unique and individual factual circumstances of each proposed closure. As this determination can be difficult, it is advisable to confer with school district legal counsel before seeking Governing Board endorsement.
Finally, A.R.S. §15-341(A)(33) permits, but does not require, a Governing Board to consult with the Arizona School Facilities Board (“SFB”) for “technical assistance” and general information with regards to the impact of closing a school. Contacting the SFB may provide the school district with valuable information concerning the proposed closure which may affect the Governing Board’s decision to move forward. However, the advice or information of the SFB cannot require the school district to “take or not take any action,” so the input of the SFB is purely informational only.
When an Arizona school district seeks to close a school it must first review the reasons and motivations for such proposed closure. Once those reasons are determined, then the school district must follow the notification and meeting requirements as outlined in A.R.S. §15-341(A)(33). Assuming all of the requirements of the statue are met, the school district can move forward with the closure of the school.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding The Process for Closing a School in Arizona?, or any other estate planning matters, please feel free to contact at 480.461.5300, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.