The initial recommendations presented tonight are not final. There’s still time to voice questions, concerns.
Nearly four months after Salt Lake City School District officials began studying seven elementary schools for potential closure, the district tonight is expected to present its initial recommendations on which schools could shut down — or stay open.
Superintendent Elizabeth Grant will announce any and all schools recommended for closure during a 6 p.m. meeting, along with drafted boundary adjustments if a school were to close, according to a news release. She will also announce proposed locations for any special district programs that may be affected by the recommended closures.
The meeting will be held at Glendale Middle School, with time allotted for public comment. For those who cannot attend, it will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel. The meeting was initially moved to the district’s temporary headquarters before ultimately being shifted back to Glendale.
The seven elementary schools the district has been studying for potential closure are Bennion, Emerson, Hawthorne, Mary W. Jackson, Newman, Riley and Wasatch.
The study has examined several factors, including each school’s enrollment figures, surrounding resident population, and strategic placement of districtwide programs for equity and access, among other details.
Why is the district looking to close schools?
In the last eight years, the district has lost almost 4,000 K-6 students, according to the district’s boundaries and planning director, Brian Conley. That drain has led to imbalanced enrollment across elementary campuses, especially as demographers project an aging population in Salt Lake City.
Four out of seven elementary schools on the study list for example saw “significant” dips in student enrollment in the last year, according to the district: Mary W. Jackson lost 10.6% of its students; Newman lost 10.8%; Riley lost 9%; and Hawthorne lost 12.4%.
The decision to potentially close campuses has mostly aimed to “right-size” schools, which district officials have continued to emphasize at meetings. “Right-sizing” means having around three teachers per grade level at a given school, with around 25 students per classroom, according to the district.
Officials have said “right-sizing” will result in more opportunities across the district, such as school field trips that require a certain class size, giving parents more teacher choices per grade, or even more Title I funding for certain campuses.
Last December, state auditors criticized the district for spending money to keep schools open that were losing students, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The last time the district physically closed campuses was in 2002, when Lowell and Rosslyn Heights elementary were shuttered.
District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin said in a September information session that the district had already been exploring the possibility of a population and boundary study of its schools before the state audit was released.
“We were aware of that need, and the legislative audit just kind of echoed the need that was already there,” Chatwin said.
The recommendations presented to board members Monday are not final. The district will hold a public hearing Dec. 5, where community members can voice their questions and concerns.
Parents have argued that the district hasn’t been transparent about why exactly the seven schools studied for closure were selected. Some have raised concerns about how potential closures could gut certain city neighborhoods of elementary schools completely.
Board members will vote on a final decision as early as Jan. 9, Chatwin told The Salt Lake Tribune.