Residents voice concerns over school closings

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    By Amanda Del Giudice

    Concerned parents filled the commons area of Jordan High School Wednesday night to gain information and voice their opinions about possible neighborhood school closings.

    The Jordan School District hosted their third of four open houses to obtain public feedback about district areas with declining enrollment. The open house presented previously established alternatives to school closings, and various board members were present to answer questions and address the public”s concerns.

    “I don”t want our school closed,” said Joni Cox, parent of three Jordan School District students. “I”ve put a lot of time, energy and effort into the school.”

    Population influxes in the southern areas combined with declining enrollment in the northern areas have caused many schools to be operating at nearly three-quarters capacity while others are over-capacity.

    “The whole process is to provide us with the feedback we need … as a committee to make our decision,” Keith Wilson, executive director of the southwest area, said about the open houses. “We”ve got 52 percent of taxpayers in the Jordan School District who have no children in the schools, and they”re wanting us to be fiscally responsible for the tax dollars.”

    The Jordan School District has sent a newsletter to all 122,000 homes in the district, whether they have school-aged children or not, said Melinda Colton, director of communications for the Jordan School District.

    The northeast area around Brighton High School, and the northwest area, the north central part of the district, are two areas specifically identified as not entirely opposed to consolidating schools, Wilson said.

    Parents with children in these northern areas see the declining enrollment, and although a few vocal parents say “please don”t close our schools,” most are able to see both sides of the issue and understand why changes are necessary, he said.

    The issue was addressed generally in 2002, but no specific recommendations were made at the time. A three-phase process began shortly thereafter.

    Phase One established factors for consideration in consolidation and closure of schools. Phase Two developed five alternatives available to the Board of Education for increasing operating efficiency. Phase Three will determine specific schools for closure, if necessary.

    The committee addressing the issue consists of 62 people throughout the district including school leadership, PTA representatives, patrons without children in the school system, principals, teachers and school community council chairs.

    The committee created five options to address the declining enrollment within the district. Option A is to maintain the status quo, make no changes and close no schools. On the opposite side of the spectrum, option E would put schools on a year-round calendar with six portables each and close 13 elementary and two middle schools.

    “Financially, this is the one option [option E] that saves us the most amount of money, but it also causes the greatest agony,” Wilson said.

    Year-round school is a great option until there are two or three students in a household and the schedules just get out of hand, Wilson said. Scheduling becomes difficult and confusing, and for many parents and teachers, it just isn”t worth the trouble.

    None of the options are likely to be considered on their own; it is more probable that parts will be taken from each of the options and assimilated to form a final alternative.

    The public may submit input via the Internet at the Jordan School District website until May 19. Forms are available in English and Spanish, Colton said.

    The committee will meet a final time on May 26 to review public feedback received at the open houses and to revise the alternatives. The Jordan School District will present their final alternatives to the Board of Education on June 21.

    The Provo School District hasn”t experienced the same problems as the Jordan School District.

    “Our enrollment has leveled out,” said Bob Gentry, director of personnel for the Provo School District. “We probably will grow or drop enrollment over the next few years, but we don”t anticipate any growth to speak of.”

    Over the past eight to 10 years, enrollment has dropped but hasn”t precipitated school closures, Gentry said.

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