When Karen Peters heard education officials were eyeing Granite High School for closure, she thought of lyrics from the Broadway hit "West Side Story."
"A place for us, somewhere a place for us," said the school's testing coordinator, echoing the remarks of more than 50 South Salt Lake parents and students who on Tuesday lobbied the Granite District Board of Education to spare their neighborhood school. More than 300 people attended the public hearing.
Emotions were high at the public hearing with parents, some in tears, describing the small, close-knit school as a safe haven for children who failed to thrive elsewhere. Students flocked to the district headquarters chanting "clone it, don't close it" and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with "Rock Solid for another 100 years."
Board members were sympathetic, reserving comment for May 5 when they'll decide the school's fate and finalize next year's budget. But with finite resources, it's unclear whether the school will survive.
Overhead on the 100-year-old building and $20 million to $25 million in needed safety upgrades are luxuries that the district can ill afford, say district officials. The board must shave $28 million; shuttering Granite High would free up $1.3 million.
On a per-student basis, overhead at Granite High is about three times the district average for other high schools, said district spokesman Ben Horsley.
Enrollment has languished at about 300 students with 75 percent of South Salt Lake teens choosing other schools, said Horsley. "Fifty-five students have left since the beginning of the school year."
Parents blamed slumping enrollment on the district, which, as an alternative to closure, remade the school in 2005 into a small learning community serving a diverse, at-risk population.
"You have picked away at Granite High. You've taken away sports and activities," said a parent, Taunia Knight. "Why must Granite be the target every time you have financial difficulties."
Others questioned the reputed cost savings.
"We've heard the cost of demolishing the building is prohibitive. With these costs, plus busing students, I'm in doubt as to how much the district is going to save," said Granite High English and Spanish teacher John Draper.
Said the school's valedictorian Kaila Jacobson, "What kind of message do you think you're sending to 300 students who will no longer have a school? Those 300 kids have just as much potential as your 2,000."
Granite High is an alternative to large, factory-model high schools.
Some come to focus on academics without sports and their accompanying distractions. Others come for the tutoring programs and the one-on-one attention.
"I'm eternally grateful for the teachers at Granite High," said parent Lori Hoffman, who said her daughter, once bullied and failing in school, is now a confident learner earning A's and B's. "She now talks about school. She's excited about learning."
South Salt Lake city officials support preserving the school as does Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, who reminded the board that more federal dollars are due the state.
But among the handful of voices in dissent, Tiffani Leavitt, of West Valley City, said keeping Granite High afloat would be financially irresponsible and unfair to other students in the district.
"To give other students in the district the same small-school experience would mean building 45 high schools," said Leavitt, who works for Granite District and who bristles at the suggestion that Granite High students won't do well elsewhere.
Four other high schools in the district serve larger at-risk populations than Granite's total student body, Leavitt said. "I know I'm a lone voice today, but there are others out there who feel the same way."