For years, the Salt Lake City School Board has deferred any decisions to address declining student numbers. But after a critical state scrutiny and mounting public pressure, it will now begin the process to decide which schools to close.
Board members will meet this evening – Tuesday 10th January at 5pm – to discuss what the timeline will be. This public meeting will be held in person at 465 S. 400 East, Suite 300, Salt Lake City. And it’s streaming online at: www.youtube.com/slcschools.
No action will be taken Tuesday night as the board – including two newly elected members – learns of the process and outlines the months ahead.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s to come.
How does the enrollment in the district look like?
The trend of student dropouts has been continuous over the past eight years, although it began as early as 2014.
The district has lost 13% of its enrollment, or about 3,000 children, in the last five years – the highest number of any district in Salt Lake County. It currently has 19,447 students, according to fall enrollment figures, and operates 39 schools.
It has seen the sharpest declines in elementary schools, with all 27 in the district losing students. Since last fall, the elementary school population has dropped by another 214 children.
In 2016, 80% of the space was used in simple buildings. This fall, only 57% will be used, according to a state audit.
Enrollment at eight elementary schools in the district is below 50% of capacity. The lowest is at Bennion Elementary, which the board originally wanted to close in 2019 but then didn’t respond after parents raised concerns.
The board will begin its process to close schools with elementary students, district spokesman Yándary Chatwin said. “The big changes are happening there right now,” she said.
What is the schedule for closures?
The process of closing schools will take about a year.
The superintendent’s cabinet in the district has been looking into the issue for the past few years, examining the age of the buildings, student demographics, and the programs housed in each school.
In February, members will submit to the Board a study list of school clusters they wish to further review with a view to possible closure. Chatwin said it will be a long list — but “that doesn’t mean a school will close just because it’s there.”
It’s a list to help weigh the impact closing each school would have. However, according to state audit, the district must close at least six elementary schools in order to exceed 75% capacity in all of its base buildings. Only three elementary school students currently reach this mark.
From there, the board can make changes to the study list before approving the committee to proceed with its research. Then:
• From March to May, The superintendent will direct staff to meet with representatives of each school on the list – including the principal and school community councils – to discuss any impact.
• Around May or June, Staff will contact the school board with initial recommendations and possible solutions. At this point, the board must approve further studies. It could also tell employees to start over. The employees will use the summer for further work.
• In August, the board is likely to approve a list of recommended options. That would be something like three possible scenarios for closures, how that would affect high school bus schedules and feeder patterns. This list would then be made publicly available.
• Following this in the fall There will be several sessions where parents and members of the public can comment on the various proposed plans. Chatwin said there will also be places for people to submit comments online if they can’t make it to a meeting. And translators will also be available for parents who may need this service.
• Probably in November, The Superintendent has reviewed all feedback and will provide an overview to the Board. Thereafter, two more public hearings will be held for further contributions.
• In December, The board will hold a meeting to discuss the options but take no action.
• At a second meeting in December or one in January 2024, The board could then decide to vote on the option for the closure to proceed with.
When would the changes take effect?
As it’s still early in the process – with possible decisions about closing at least a year later – it’s hard to know exactly when schools would close. But no earlier than after the 2023-2024 school year.
This means that by autumn 2024 there could potentially be fewer primary schools in operation in the district.
What about junior high schools and high schools?
The situation is not so bad in the district’s middle schools and high schools. But the process of considering possible closures there would follow the closure of elementary schools.
What did the State Audit Office say about the district?
A critical review released by the state last month says Salt Lake City school board members have unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars by refusing to deal with declining student enrollment.
The board has raised money by raising property taxes to prop up empty schools it has known for years should have been closed, the audit says.
If the county hadn’t approved those property tax increases, the first at $7.5 million per year in 2016 and the last this year at $1.5 million per year, taxpayers would have had for the last six years can save more than 40 million US dollars on revision.
The audit also expressed particular frustration that Salt Lake City has rebuilt three elementary schools, beginning with Liberty Elementary in 2016, while enrollment was declining. The district then completed a new Meadowlark Elementary School and an Edison Elementary School.
The district said two of the buildings were not earthquake proof. But examiners suggest this should have been a reason to close those buildings and move students more efficiently to cope with declining enrollment.
Instead, the district spent a total of US$68 million on the projects.
https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2023/01/10/this-is-timeline-salt-lake-city/ The Salt Lake City elementary school closure schedule