Facing enrollment declines that accelerated in the fall of 2020, Salt Lake City school board members have begun the process of evaluating schools for possible boundary changes or closures.
Board members asked Superintendent Timothy Gadson to develop a study list earlier this month, after hearing that the expected continued drop in enrollment next year would support 76.5 fewer teaching positions, under its formula for staffing schools. The board voted to trim 42 jobs instead, which district officials expect can be done through retirements and attrition, without layoffs.
The agenda for the board’s Tuesday meeting includes a study list proposed to Gadson by Paul Schulte, the district’s executive director of Auxiliary Services, on Feb. 17. He suggests evaluating 14 elementary schools in five clusters, based on the age of the buildings, enrollment, their utilization and proximity to other schools. Franklin Elementary school is the only school listed in multiple clusters.
(The initial list posted by the district incorrectly included Wasatch Elementary twice and omitted Washington Elementary. This story has been updated to reflect and link to the corrected list.)
Schulte’s list will be presented for questions and further guidance from board members Tuesday, district spokesperson Yándary Chatwin said.
Under the district’s procedures for boundary changes and school closures, Gadson was required to gather information to present to the board by the end of February.
The next step described in the procedure is for the board to approve an official study list, and then from March to May, district staff would meet with representatives from each school. From May to June, an options committee — convened by Gadson — would develop a list of suggestions it considers viable, for presentation to the board in July.
The options committee appointed by Gadson can create a different list than Schulte’s proposal, Chatwin noted.
School board members are not expected to comment on Schulte’s list during their Tuesday meeting, Chatwin said. His suggestion to evaluate the schools in clusters allows the board to consider the impact that closing one school would have on others around it, she added.
Some schools on Schulte’s list offer unique options that may have to migrate elsewhere if they are closed. For example, Franklin and Emerson elementaries have specialized offerings within special education. Mary W. Jackson and Emerson elementaries offer dual immersion Spanish learning. Emerson’s program is also part of the district’s gifted classes, known as the Extended Learning Program, and Hawthorne is also a magnet ELP school.
Several of the schools on the new proposed list were evaluated in 2019 by a committee of district employees and parents. The group suggested the closure of M. Lynn Bennion Elementary, located near downtown at 429 S. 800 East.
While the school board did not close Bennion then, its enrollment has continued to decline and it is on the new proposed study list.
Bennion and six other schools on the proposed new list were identified as “underutilized” in the 2019 review, which meant they space for an additional 250 students or more. Those schools are Ensign, Franklin, Nibley Park, Parkview, Riley and Washington.
Bennion, Edison and Riley are the three Salt Lake City elementary schools on the proposed list where all of the students are from low-income families. (There are five such elementary schools in the district, including Liberty and Meadowlark, according to the district’s 2021 enrollment report.)
Bennion parents, teachers and students opposed the closure suggestion at an emotional meeting in February 2019. They told the board that more than a quarter of students at Bennion were homeless, and at least 30 children lived at the nearby women’s shelter for domestic violence victims a few blocks away. Nearly 65 percent of students were minorities.
As a Title I school, Bennion receives supplemental federal funding due to its proportion of low-income families — one of several such schools on the proposed new list.
• District precinct maps and each precinct’s school board member.
• The district’s procedures for considering boundary changes and school closures.
• The district’s Fall 2021 Enrollment report. The numbers for each school are generally slightly lower than the numbers used in a more recent budget report to the board.
• The 2019 Equitable Use of Buildings report.
Correction: 11:30 p.m. March 1: This story has been updated to correctly describe programs at Hawthorne Elementary.