Almost four months after the high school boundary decision, the hurt hasn't gone away for many Salt Lake School District patrons.
At every meeting of the Salt Lake Board of Education, the patrons quickly fill up the 10 three-minute time slots allotted for patron comments.Feelings of disappointment, disillusionment and sometimes outrage spill out when patrons talk about the new boundaries and the district's closed enrollment that permits only rare high school transfers.
But while the majority of those speaking do so to complain or question board actions, several speakers can be found on every agenda who state their support for equity in the city's high schools and more specifically for school Superintendent John W. Bennion.
Tuesday night's meeting was no exception. Comments ranged from criticizing the board's failure to embrace open enrollment at its April 19 meeting to calling for an end to the continued debate over the already-made boundary decision.
Barbara Neeley of the Oak Hills Association asked board members why they voted down open enrollment in the high schools when 50 percent of them had used the district's open-enrollment policy in the elementary schools. "We ask nothing more than what you allow and give yourselves," she said.
Board member Susan Keene responded that any patron can take advantage of open enrollment at the elementary level.
Terry Hoecherl complained that his children live only 41/2 blocks from Highland High School but will have to travel 14 blocks to East High School under the new boundaries.
He said board fears that open enrollment would lead to massive flights out of any high school couldn't happen because transfers, under the proposal that failed at the last meeting, would have been allowed on a space-available basis.
Presenting the board with what she called an "equity score card," Karen Peterson said East High School comes up a big loser in every area of the board's equity plan, including academic quality and programs, size and composition of student body, physical plant and community disruption.
"If this is equity, please, please give me something else. It is quite clear that the board and district don't support East High School," she said.
On the other side of the issue, the East High School newspaper editor, Jonathan Hammond, read his editorial that said residents who aren't willing to make the new boundaries work should leave the district.
Donna Dresckell of the Glendale Community Council and Larry Failner of the South High Community Council said they approve of the board's decision.
"We strongly feel all children in Salt Lake City deserve the opportunity for a good education," Dresckell said. "Let's now unite and make the transition for the students work."
As is the usual policy, the board generally listened to the remarks without comment. During a break in the session, Bennion told the Deseret News that the board is sensitive to the feelings of those still upset over the boundary decision.
At a recent retreat board members talked about the possibility of moving toward open enrollment, but no decision has been reached, he said.
That discussion came in a brainstorming session on how the board could work with patrons to overcome the lingering animosity.
When asked to estimate the extensiveness of patron unhappiness or size of the group, Bennion said it would be difficult to gauge, although patron comments at board meetings indicate a persistent problem. The superintendent said the degree to which patrons are upset probably varies.
However, one indicator that might suggest a softening stance of some parents is the dwindling number of those requesting to transfer their children out of the school district. At one time that number was more than 200. It has dropped to 30, Bennion said.