For more than a year, a variety of boards and state agencies have wrestled with the question of whether to consolidate the two Ogden campuses for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, how to do it, and even whether to close both schools and move to Salt Lake City.
In a 3-1 vote this week, the institutional council for the schools rejected moving to Salt Lake City and approved a merger of the schools on the campus of the School for the Blind. The 100-year-old campus of the School for the Deaf would be closed.Those decisions make good sense. It is hard to justify two separate campuses when the student population is so small. The schools combined serve about 40 residential students whose handicaps are severe enough that they cannot be taught in the regular school system. Less than 10 deaf students are in the residential program. Another 100 or so daytime students have classes at the two sites.
The consolidation would cost an estimated $6.9 million in new facilities for the deaf at the School for the Blind, but the savings in operating expenses could eventually repay much of that outlay. Not all the $6.9 million of facilities would have to be built at once. Sale of the land and facilities at the Blind School also could provide some funds.
The merger proposal has been an emotional one for many people. A citizen advisory committee made the suggestion last year, only to have some of the members change their minds. The institutional council approved the merger, but with the idea that the deaf campus would be the one to remain. Some parents fought the idea.
But the State Board of Education approved the consolidation and the Legislature provided the money for a study of the issue. That study recommended combining the schools at the Blind School campus.
Using the Blind School campus would be a less traumatic move for the deaf than if the blind youngsters had to move, simply because the blind have a more difficult time coping with new and different surroundings. Combining campuses does not mean that the deaf and blind programs themselves would be combined - one of the fears of parents.
Closing both Ogden campuses and moving to Salt Lake City was argued on the basis of the fact that most clients at the schools come from the Salt Lake area. But the costs associated with acquiring property and building new facilities for two different schools would be too high.
Funding of the merged campus in Ogden now becomes a question for the Legislature, but clearly, Utah cannot afford to keep a whole separate school and campus for a mere handful of deaf students, especially if they can be well served elsewhere.