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Rosslyn Heights closure assailed

But S.L. board stays firm on shutting schools

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The Salt Lake City Board of Education doesn't plan to abandon its plan to close two elementary schools, despite parent pleas and a Tuesday rally that drew about 100 people to district offices.

"There's a general consensus that the decision has been made. The concern now is to move forward," district spokesman Jason Olsen said. "There are no plans right now to revisit the issue."

But that's not good enough for parents wondering why their school has to be the one to close.

"We want answers. So far, no one has been able to give us any," Rosslyn mother Cathy Angstman said.

Salt Lake District officials began looking at how to handle enrollment trends back in 1996. Students are crammed in west elementary schools, whereas some east schools enrolled half as many students.

The school board voted to build three west-side elementary schools, close two east schools and keep elementary enrollments near 500. It said closing two schools would save $1.3 million annually, crucial when the district faces an $11.5 million shortfall next year.

The board last winter voted to put together a 30-member committee to decide which schools should close. The committee suggested closing Beacon Heights or Dilworth in the southeast and Wasatch or Lowell in the northeast.

Last month the board, in split decisions, selected Lowell and Rosslyn Heights, essentially ignoring half of the committee's work.

Talk of starting charter schools or seeking private schools has circulated since. Some Rosslyn parents are meeting with lawmakers and seeking a legislative audit of the closure process, Angstman said. Lawsuits are an option, too, but she wouldn't elaborate.

Tuesday, about 100 parents and children rallied to demand a written explanation as to why Rosslyn should close.

Rosslyn was in line for a $5 million fix-up instead of the $8 million rebuild other area elementaries need. It is the only single-level school in the southeast area, a plus for students with disabilities.

"At Rosslyn Heights, I was part of the group, not apart from the group," said 16-year-old Allie Schneider, who has braces on her legs and uses crutches to walk. At her current school, Highland High, she has to go out of her way to find ramps and elevators.

Parents from Rosslyn and Lowell are asking the board to rescind its vote and examine other ways to save money.

Maybe a committee could review the district's budget, one parent suggested.

Maybe the district could cut back on librarians, hire aides instead, and have one senior librarian oversee a handful of schools, said John Stringham, who represented Rosslyn on the closure committee. He surmises the move, similar to what money-strapped Granite School District is doing, would save about $1 million.

"I recognize the natural reaction of a public body who's gone through a process as wrenching as this not to revisit it," said Rosslyn Heights parent Jim Jardine, a member of the Utah Board of Regents. "But the exercise of that courage at this time would enact a sense of fairness . . . that would be to the benefit of everyone."

School board president Joel Briscoe said the board does not typically respond to public comments in meetings, but it would respond to written comments.

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com