East High School parents called on the Salt Lake Board of Education Tuesday Night to fix the lopsided East-Highland enrollments by either correcting the boundaries or moving to open enrollment now.
"It is our view that the board needs to act on this immediately," said Clark Wood, co-chairman of the East Community Council, a school group of parents, teachers and administrators.The board did act on the matter but, after a lengthy discussion, followed neither course demanded by the parents. Instead, board members backed a proposal by Superintendent John W. Bennion that would somewhat adjust the enrollment numbers.
The new policy will give Highland students a longer period in which they can decide if they want to transfer to East. The district lets up to 100 Highland students transfer to East. It will also let students who want to attend a districtwide business program, located at East, attend that school for four years, although the program is limited to juniors and seniors. The plan also makes the transfer procedure more uniform.
The East parents said the proposal will not do enough to correct the imbalance.
The enrollment imbalance became an issue last spring when East parents complained that the school's smaller-than-expected numbers were causing the school to lose teachers, thus threatening to erode quality programs.
The enrollment issue springs from the redrawing of the high school boundaries when the board decided to close South High School three years ago. One boundary criterion was that the high school enrollments be balanced as closely as possible with no more than a 200-student difference between schools. Other criteria included a balance of test scores and minority populations.
Last spring, Highland had 400 more students than East. When a district committee evaluated the enrollment last month, that difference had grown to 505. That committee found that the two largest reasons for the difference were that more students reside within Highland's boundaries and the district's centralized English as a Second Language program located at Highland.
Before adopting Bennion's proposal, the board raised such possibilities as decentralizing the ESL program, sending the students back to their resident schools, initiating open enrollment and decentralizing the Extended Learning Program (ELP), or gifted program, located at West.
Alan Mecham, who represents the Highland area and served on the analysis committee, said he'd like "peace brought to this issue ultimately and permanently" with open enrollment. The focus, he said, shouldn't be on schools but on people by offering them a choice on where they want to go to school.
But while the board didn't give the parents what they wanted, members did agree to back East's move to be reclassified from a 4A to a 3A high school in athletics. East is the smallest 4A school in the state and has tried for two years to get the Utah High School Activities Association to downsize its classification.