What next for the possible school closures in Salt Lake City?

The district school board has debated declining enrollments for years, but a move toward concrete closures is expected in August.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bennion Elementary in Salt Lake City was one of seven schools the district had selected for closure for possible further study.

After all 27 Salt Lake City elementary schools were scrutinized for possible closures or boundary changes, seven lowest-ranked schools came under the spotlight in July.

There was a “notable break” between the top 20 schools and these seven elementary schools based on safety, enrollment and other factors. So far there have been no official steps to close it.

However, school board members are expected to vote in August on whether to review some or all of these schools for possible closure: Emerson, Hawthorne, Bennion, Mary W. Jackson, Newman, Riley and Wasatch Elementary Schools.

“You could all go for zero, you could all go for seven, that’s not our decision, that decision is up to the board,” director of boundaries and planning Brian Conley said at the board’s July meeting.

Here is the schedule for what would happen after that.

Start the clock

Under Utah law, school districts are currently required to give parents and students of schools that are scheduled to close at least 90 days’ notice before formally approving or implementing plans to change boundaries or close. The law was changed from 120 to 90 days in May.

However, the Salt Lake City School District still sets that number at a minimum of 120 days, which would begin in August, when board members then vote to officially study one of the seven schools.

The vote would also begin examining the remaining 20 elementary schools for possible boundary changes.

Collecting Comments

If either school is accepted for a potential closure study, the district will hold neighborhood awareness sessions during September and October on its estimated schedule to gather and analyze community feedback. Conley listed neighborhoods such as Glendale, Sugar House, Rose Park and the Avenues as areas where gatherings could be held.

In November, the board may then hold two public comment sessions during that month’s board meetings.

And county officials would present feedback they received from the public briefings over the past two months. The recommendations for possible border changes or school closures could then be placed on the board’s discussion agenda.

Schedule a formal public hearing

The board is then expected to hold a public hearing in December and January. As the recommendations are either already available or have been placed on the discussion agenda at this point, the Board could vote to place their final options on the action agenda for the next meeting.

The final vote on the official closure of the schools could then take place in these two months.

Ensuring a “smooth transition” for students and families

The earliest a school would close its doors is the fall of 2024, said Salt Lake City School District spokesman Yándary Chatwin.

And if schools close, the county will take steps to ensure “a smooth transition” for families and their students, Conley said in July.

Some of the questions raised by community members included how to help students meet their future classmates; Ensuring transitions are supported for those moving into new school communities; and creating processes for forming new parent groups.

“We know we’re not there yet, but these questions are already emerging,” Conley said. “The communities are concerned about the students and they know what’s going to happen.”

The district’s plans include developing communication strategies “to ensure everyone has access to timely and accurate information,” determining how staff from closed schools can be accommodated, and determining what to do with closed schools’ buildings and property to “continue to be good neighbors in our communities.”

If a county decides to sell the site of a closed school, state law requires it to first offer the land to the city.

Why is the board considering possible closures?

The decision to consider closing schools stems from the county’s attempt to “right-size” its schools, according to a list of frequently asked questions on the county’s website.

A state review follows, during which the district has been harshly criticized for keeping schools open with declining enrollments. The average cost of running a school is about $680,000 a year, District Business Administrator Alan Kearsley said at the July board meeting.

Proper sizing means that a school has enough students enrolled to employ three teachers per grade level and provide full-time kindergarten classes and possibly pre-school classes.

“This allows schools to offer a variety of options to students at each grade level and increases opportunities for teachers to work together to support and enrich student learning throughout the grade level,” the district said.

Justin Scaccy

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