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S.L. area schools to realign

Enrollment shifts have prompted talk of closures

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Whether residents like it or not, it's pretty much guaranteed that boundaries in Salt Lake City School District are going to change.

At Tuesday's meeting, board members gave a thumbs up to start the process in the southwestern part of the district.

Five elementary schools — Franklin, Parkview, Mountain View, Riley and Edison — will be the first in the district to realign. Superintendent Darline Robles proposed they will serve as a model for the rest of the district.

Robles said she wants involvement at all levels. "After all, the schools belong to the community, not to us."

"My goal would be to have parents and teachers know where the boundaries would be."

The board decided that one teacher, two parents and one administrator from each school will be part of a larger southwest committee that will work on proposals for realignment that they can propose to the board.

If the committee decides to make recommendations that could possibly affect another of the district's quadrants, it would pull in teachers, parents and administrators from those areas likely to be changed.

"It would have to be fluid," Robles said.

However, it is still unclear whether the school board or the committee would decide on specific school closures.

"The board felt sure they would make the decision whether to close schools or not; however, the debate is still whether the board or the committee would decide which schools to close," said district spokesman Dave Green.

"I would have to have those elementary school (representatives) have to chose who to close," said board member Cliff Higbee.

Gary Smith, director of information systems for the district, said strong data proves realignment is necessary.

While schools in the northwest and southwest grew by 830 and 600 students respectively, schools in the northeast and southeast dropped 493 and 1,000 students.

Smith countered arguments of population growth by stating Salt Lake City's growth will be flat — an increase of 10,000 or 20,000 people — for two reasons: an aging population and decrease in family size. He said birth rates county-wide are about 20 births to every 1000 people. In 2020, Envision Utah projects that rate will be 18 per 1000.

"We've heard a lot of discussion about growth in the next 20 years," Smith said. He said data gathered from Envision Utah and on Gov. Mike Leavitt's Web site predict the Wasatch Front will have about 1 million more people by 2020. However, Smith said this population boom will most likely happen outside city limits.

"That doesn't mean we couldn't be surprised by . . . new developments west," Smith said.

Parent Lori Donnelly voiced concern the district may be acting too hastily in deciding to begin realigning boundaries, especially in regards to their belief east-side school populations are declining.

She said Olympic housing at the University of Utah will eventually become housing for many college students with school-age children of their own. She also said the board should wait forCensus 2000 data to make decisions about realigning boundaries.

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com