Granite School Board delayed a decision Tuesday night on closing East Mill Creek Elementary School to allow parents of students now attending Upland Terrace Elementary to discuss the effects on their children.
Closure of East Mill Creek was virtually assured as the board considered two options, either of which would move the school's students en masse to either Canyon Rim or Upland Terrace.The district has been working toward closure of one of its eastside schools because three of them do not meet the state's requirement for 70 percent utilization. The state would impose penalties of up to $2 million if the district continued to operate the schools at less than optimum occupancy, said Dr. Riley O'Neil, assistant superintendent.
Either of the alternatives considered Tuesday would move units of the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind to Roosevelt Elementary School, a proposal that has not engendered any controversy. Absorbing the units for the handicapped would bring that school into compliance as well.
O'Neil presented the two East Mill Creek options to board members. One would move the East Mill Creek students to Canyon Rim and the other to Upland Terrace. Either of these schools could absorb the displaced students and their teachers, he said, and either plan would bring all the schools into compliance for at least the next five years.
However, the Upland Terrace alternative - which O'Neil said he preferred because it would eliminate the safety factor of busing the East Mill Creek children across busy 33rd South - would disrupt approximately 150 students who have been bused to Upland Terrace from a westside neighborhood. Under Option B, the students would be bused to Canyon Rim, a school that is even farther from their homes in the valley center area of Fifth to Seventh West and 39th South.
The proposal raised considerable ire among the parents of the westside children. The youngsters have attended Upland Terrace for 18 years.
Caroline Alder, who said her "blood is boiling," emotionally decried a move that would require the westside students to be on "overcrowded" buses even longer than they now are - nearly two hours a day coming and going. The children cannot participate in events before and after school unless parents provide private transportation, she said.
The valley center parents were not included in a study of the utilization issue on the eastside, Alder said. The neighborhood has already been asked to cope with an unsatisfactory busing situation and should not be required to be uprooted again. The children are attending schools that don't feed into the junior high schools and high schools they ultimately will attend.
"If there is to be a change, we want it to be for the better, not further away."
Sharon Wright, another valley center resident, agreed that busing the students, displaced when Blaine Elementary closed, "has been a mess. I can't believe we would now be bused to another school. We need to be part of a better feeder situation, and don't you think we don't." She attributed her daughter's anorexia to stress caused by being passed into a junior high school where she felt isolated.
The valley center parents were told 18 years ago that the busing to Upland Terrace would be permanent if they would agree to the plan, said Lee Wright.
The board agreed that the valley center parents had been overlooked in the planning process and said district personnel will meet with them over the next two weeks before reconsidering the closure issue at its next meeting.
About a dozen patrons of the eastside area also addressed the board, expressing their discontent with the closing of East Mill Creek, but agreeing grudgingly that the closure is inevitable.
Their primary concern was the loss of the school as a "green space" in the community. Residents suggested that the school board require any purchaser to keep the school grounds as they are to guarantee a parklike area in the neighborhood. O'Neil said at least two potential purchasers are interested in the property for private school uses and have said they would preserve the green space.
Several options were suggested, including purchase of the school property by the Salt Lake County Parks Department or having the school district make a gift of the property to the neighborhood.
East Mill Creek does not have a park area and was "cheated" of access to the old Sherman School property when it was sold to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, residents said. Although the property is heavily used for recreation, it is fenced and used only on a by-schedule basis.
Lawrence Lewis said any agreement regarding the East Mill Creek property should be "in writing. We want a contract of some kind, even if it requires incorporation of the community."