Dan Strong: SLC school closure decisions should be based on data, not the loudest voice

The letter-writing and yard sign campaigns have already begun.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Newman Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

Like many parents throughout Salt Lake City, I am dismayed by the prospect of school closures in my neighborhood. My two kids attend Newman Elementary in Rose Park — one of the seven schools potentially on the chopping block. Newman has provided a safe, diverse, dynamic, and friendly learning environment for my children and thousands of others through the years. The impact of losing such a special place is difficult to quantify.

As strongly as I feel that Newman is worth saving, I know that my feelings are no stronger than other parents in my position, whether they send their kids to other Westside schools like Jackson and Riley or schools east of the freeway like Emerson and Bennion. We all love our schools, and they all have value. With seven schools slated for closure and the likelihood that not all seven will close, this public comment period seems destined to descend into a contest of neighborhoods, pitting East vs. West and school against school. Indeed, the letter-writing and yard sign campaigns have already begun.

While I will not shy away from defending the strengths of the Westside schools in such a contest, I hope the Salt Lake City School Board will recognize that this decision should not be made based on which community can yell the loudest. Well-resourced neighborhoods will always have an advantage when it comes to turning the wheels of government, while disadvantaged areas with quieter voices are more easily ignored.

If Salt Lake City does need to transition to fewer schools to reflect population changes, that process should be objective, data-driven, and completely transparent. It needs to be clear who is making these recommendations, what criteria they are using and how those criteria are measured. There needs to be clear planning and communication about what comes next, with growth projections a key component of the analysis. These decisions should not be rushed, as gathering good data takes time.

Ultimately, my hope that Newman will not close is exceeded only by my desire for a fair process. I know that change is inevitable and sometimes painful. The best way to ease that pain for all families is to ensure a process that is truly fair, objective and transparent.

Dan Strong

Dan Strong has lived in Rose Park for over a decade. Dan is president of the Westside Coalition and a former Chair of the Rose Park Community Council