What’s the timeline for Salt Lake City’s potential school closures?

The district school board has been discussing declining enrollment for years, but a step toward specific closures is expected in August.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City's Bennion Elementary was one of seven schools identified by the district for potential further study for closure.

After all 27 elementary schools in Salt Lake City were studied for potential closures or boundary changes, seven lowest-ranked schools were thrown into the spotlight in July.

There was a “notable break” between the top 20 schools and these seven elementaries, based on safety, enrollment and other factors. So far, there’s been no official move toward shuttering them.

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

“You all could decide zero, you all could decide seven, that’s not for us to decide, that decision is the board’s,” Brian Conley, director of Boundaries and Planning, said at the board’s July meeting.

Here’s the timeline for what would happen after that.

Starting the clock

Utah law currently requires school districts to give parents and students of schools targeted for closure at least 90 days’ notice prior to officially approving or implementing plans to change boundaries or close. The law was changed from 120 days to 90 in May.

Salt Lake City School District, however, still sets that number to at least 120 days, which would begin in August if board members vote then to officially study any of the seven schools.

The vote would also begin the study of the remaining 20 elementary schools for potential boundary changes.

Gathering comments

If any of the schools are approved for a possible closure study, the district will host neighborhood information sessions in September and October to gather and analyze feedback from the community, according to its estimated timeline. Conley listed neighborhoods such as Glendale, Sugar House, Rose Park and the Avenues as areas where meetings might be held.

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

And district officials would present feedback they received from the public information sessions held in the previous two months. The recommendations for possible boundary changes or school closures could then be put on the board’s discussion agenda.

Setting a formal public hearing

Then in December and January, the board is expected to hold a public hearing. With recommendations either already in place, or placed on the discussion agenda at that time, the board could vote to put its final options on the action agenda for the next meeting.

The final vote to officially close the schools could then happen during these two months.

Ensuring a ‘smooth transition’ for students and families

The earliest a school would close its doors, said Salt Lake City School District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin, “would be for fall 2024.”

And if schools are closed, the district will take steps to “ensure smooth transitions” for families and their students, Conley said in July.

These issues — raised by community members — included how to help students get to know their future classmates; making sure transitions for those moving to new school communities are supported; and creating processes to form new parent groups.

“We know we’re not there, but those questions are already starting to come up,” Conley said. “Communities are concerned about students and knowing what will happen.”

The district’s plans include creating communication strategies “to ensure everyone has access to timely and accurate information,” figuring out how to place employees of closed schools and determining what will happen to the buildings and property of the closed schools to “continue to be good neighbors in our communities.”

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

Why is the board considering possible closures?

The decision to consider closing schools results from the district trying to “right-size” its schools, according to a “frequently asked questions” list on the district website.

It follows a state audit that sharply criticized the district for keeping schools with declining enrollment open. The cost to run one school averages around $680,000 a year, district business administrator Alan Kearsley said at the July board meeting.

Right-sizing means having sufficient enrollment in a school to have three teachers per grade level, as well as providing full-day kindergarten classes and potentially pre-kindergarten.

“This enables schools to provide a variety of options for students at each grade level and increases the opportunities for teachers to collaborate to support and enrich student learning across the grade level,” the district stated.