Granite mulls eliminating year-round school schedules

Published: Saturday, Nov. 26 2011 10:32 p.m. MST

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Year-round elementary school schedules once saved the Granite School District tens of millions of dollars. But as enrollment growth has slowed, the district is looking to switch 14 schools back to traditional schedules.

"Right now, the board is leaning toward that direction," district spokesman Ben Horsley said. "Having no need for additional buildings and having the capacity now, it doesn't make much sense to remain on that schedule."

Since the late 1980s, the district has had as many as 18 schools on year-round schedules to deal with overcrowded buildings. Rather than construct new buildings, year-round schools assign students to four different tracks and at least one group is "off track" at any given time. That way student attendance is staggered, and schools can enroll more kids than would be possible if all students were in class simultaneously.

Students still receive the same number of instructional days, but experience three- to four-week breaks throughout the year and shorter summer breaks.

Horsley said the district saved an estimated $130 million to $150 million over the years by switching to year-round schedules rather than building new schools.

"We anticipate we have not had to build eight to 10 elementary schools because of the year-round schedules since the late '80s," Horsley said.

Year-round schools create an obvious cost savings in crowded districts but can prove to be inefficient in schools with manageable enrollment numbers. That's what Granite is facing now.

Enrollment numbers that were ballooning in the late 1990s and early 2000s have stabilized recently, Horsley said.

"We've been staying steady at 68,000 for the last three to five years," he said.

Transportation costs are higher at year-round schools, as are utility bills and personnel costs, since additional secretaries are often required, and principals receive an additional stipend. By eliminating all 14 of its year-round schools, the district would save an estimated $1.5 million a year, Horsley said.

That's not to say anyone would lose their job should the board approve the switch.

"We do have enough turnover and retirements that we don't anticipate anyone would lose their position," he said.

By and large, parents seem to be on board with the idea.

"I have almost heard universally from parents that they like that idea," said Linda Hansen, state PTA director representing Region 5, which covers all of Granite. "I think it will be a positive thing."

Because no high schools or junior high schools are year-round, it can be difficult for families to deal with some kids on one schedule and some on another.

"Traditional schedule is definitely a welcome change for our household," said Kim Kunz, a parent at Pleasant Green Elementary in Magna. "With older children in secondary schools, it will be a winning situation to have everyone on the same school schedule."

Horsley said there are 10 schools that have the capacity to easily make the transition next year, but four others could go either way.

The Granite School Board will decide at its meeting Dec. 6 what schools will make the switch. Time is of the essence because schools start registration in February. If the board doesn't make a decision by January, the discussion will be tabled for another year.

The 14 schools currently on the year-round schedule are: Bacchus Elementary, Kearns; Beehive Elementary, Kearns; Jim Bridger Elementary, West Jordan; Copper Hills Elementary, Magna; Granger Elementary, West Valley City; Hillsdale Elementary, West Valley City; Hillside Elementary, West Valley City; Magna Elementary, Magna; Orchard Elementary, West Valley City; Pleasant Green, Magna; South Kearns, Kearns; Stansbury, West Valley City; Valley Crest, West Valley City; Woodrow Wilson Elementary, South Salt Lake.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com Twitter: mollyfarmer

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