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School closures possible

Jordan board looks at options; public meeting Sept. 14

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 25 2004 9:04 a.m. MDT

The Jordan Board of Education likely would shut down one elementary school in its northeast area and could consider closing a second elementary and a middle school in the east and north-central areas, respectively, according to informal consensus reached Tuesday night.

Nothing is set in stone. Public input will be taken before the board votes on the matter. The board is scheduled to roll out its ideas in a Sept. 14 public meeting; a vote would come at a later date.

"The ramifications are great, and we are at a point where (board discussion) will lead us to decisions," superintendent Barry Newbold said in the study session. "We expect, as the board now has begun to crystallize its thinking on this, there will be patrons who want to share their opinion."

Any changes would take effect a year from now.

Details on the board's initial ideas, including rationale, related boundary changes and possible school renovations, will be posted online by week's end at www.jordandistrict.org, Newbold said.

Jordan, the state's largest school district with 74,000 students, expects 15,000 new students within 10 years, Wikstrom Economic and Planning Consultants studies have stated.

District voters last year approved a $281 million bond to build 22 schools in the growing south and west areas.

But not all areas are growing. Some, particularly the east, are losing enrollment, mainly because neighborhood kids have grown. Some schools in such pockets are two-thirds full — a few, even less, when considering only resident enrollment and not special-permit students.

But is keeping schools part empty a good idea?

The question has been discussed for the better part of a year.

A 55-member facilities planning committee of community members and school workers drafted efficiency possibilities for elementary and middle schools, from doing nothing to redrawing boundaries and closing schools.

Residents chimed in at four spring open houses and online; three-fourths favored closing a few schools over status quo, Wikstrom data have shown.

The board this summer crunched public desire and data, including enrollment and building renovation needs, into eight statements guiding future decisions.

For instance, closing schools is an option to be used sparingly, and only where resident enrollment is steadily declining or fills less than 70 percent of the building's capacity, or when renovations at a school would cost 85 percent of the price of a brand new one.

District bosses applied the guidelines to all areas, with varying results.

In the northeast, enrollment is projected to drop through at least 2013. Several schools are well below capacity, and two would be more expensive to renovate than rebuild, according to district data.

That's why the board is moving toward closing two elementary schools there, then building a new school on one of the closed sites.

Closing a school there doesn't sit well with residents who say younger families are moving in. However, Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, who says she has received several calls from concerned residents, believes building a new school in the area might "be a good trade-off."

Meanwhile, the board will consider closing another elementary school in the east-central area, and possibly a middle school in the north-central area, for the same enrollment and building issues. Board member Lynette Phillips, however, was adamant middle schools — Midvale, Mount Jordan and Union make up that area — should be maintained.

District officials also continually hinted at a bond election to possibly renovate or rebuild aging district buildings but set no plans to ask voters for more money.

The school board will vote on the matter in the coming weeks. Then it would tap the community to help determine which schools, if any, might close.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com

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