School District Seeking Ways To Cope With Shrinking Enrollment

School District Seeking Ways To Cope With Shrinking Enrollment

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Three options were unveiled to school committees in Granite School District Monday on ways to deal with the district's shrinking population — which schools could be closed down, consolidated or rebuilt.

But leaders say the proposals are just working documents with nothing concrete. "These are very fluid, they are going to change," said Paul Shepard, director of planning and boundaries for the district. "These (meetings) are designed to get input on option proposals developed by the options committee."

District leaders will be making presentations all week to school committees that consist of district parents distributed geographically throughout school boundaries. About 350 parents were invited to participate on the school committees.

Granite is the state's second-largest district, but has slowly shrunk to about 69,000 students. It has 8,700 empty seats, costing taxpayers $3 million a year to sustain.

Last spring, a building utilization study found schools west of 5600 West are increasingly crowded, while those east of State Street are part empty.

An options committee of parents and school workers has been examining ways to balance things out. The idea is to create schools with viable enrollments to support programs, and thus ensure educational equity across the district.

Last spring, residents attended open houses and chimed in on how the district ought to proceed. In June, the Granite Board of Education weighed the input, and voted to look at closing or consolidating schools, changing boundaries and shifting what grades go into what schools, such as putting ninth-graders in high schools.

Meanwhile, the east-bench Wasatch Junior High burned down July 11. The blaze was attributed to an electrical problem in a computer server area. Wasatch students, teachers and other school workers this fall will do business as a "school within a school" at the nearby Churchill Junior High.

But the district says the fire will not sway the study's outcomes; officials say they're proceeding as if Wasatch were still standing.

School committee members were given a feedback form they must have back to the district by the end of this month. It will give district leaders insight on which option is most preferred, changes that need to be made and other angles that need to be looked at.

"We will assimilate that information and go back as a committee and see what we need to change based on what we've heard from the schools," said Randy Riplinger, district spokesman.

Those new options will then go to the school board. "I don't really think what we say is going to change what the school district is going to do," said Patrick Evans, an Evergreen Junior High parent. "But I think they are weak on information."

But PTA parent Nancy Yorgason said she was surprised at how much district leaders did take into consideration — schools' size, location, population, sewer, sprinkling, age and air conditioning.

"I wish that people knew what was behind the process and all that goes into this," said Yorgason, who was also on the options committee. "They (district leaders) know their stuff and we have to trust that."

The school board is to receive a report on this week's activities in a Sept. 6 meeting, then determine Sept. 27 what scenarios will be pitched in October open houses, where the public can chime in.

The board is expected to take a final vote Nov. 15.

(Copyright 2005 The Deseret Morning News)

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