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Jordan eyes school closures

Enrollment decline on east side cited as rationale in proposal

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SANDY — The rumors are already out there — schools will be closing in the Jordan School District.

But what schools, if any, will close in the future will first depend a lot on what the public has to say in meetings and open houses later this year and next year.

"There shouldn't be anything secretive about how to go about this," superintendent Barry Newbold said Tuesday at a Board of Education study meeting. The soonest any schools would close, he said, would be for the 2005-2006 school year.

It's an issue for the same reason the Granite Board of Education is talking about possibly closing two of its elementary schools.

Both districts are experiencing rapid growth on the west side of their boundaries while on the east side, student population continues to decline. That growth is why Jordan passed a $281 million bond earlier this year for new schools, more land and remodeling.

But now the district is being forced to look at balancing student enrollment, which is lagging in some areas and booming in others.

So, Jordan officials are hiring Karen Wickstrom, an economist and expert on demographics, to come up with a process on how best to use district resources. That process will probably include a 52-person committee made up, in part, of school and district officials, PTA leaders and parents with and without children in the school system.

It's important, Newbold said, to include people without children in schools because that group makes up more than 50 percent of the taxpayers within district boundaries. The soonest public comment will be taken on whether to close schools could come in November.

School closures, though, are not the only options. Others involve allowing schools to remain under-enrolled, adjusting boundaries and finding alternative uses for under-enrolled schools.

At this point, three middle schools and at least nine elementary schools in three of seven geographic areas within the district have been identified as having declining student populations.

But deciding what to do with those schools will take a long time.

"It should not be rushed under any circumstances," Wickstrom said. "We want to make sure people can be heard."

One challenge that lies ahead for the district is figuring out just where new growth will occur.

If some schools are closed down the road, Newbold said, it'll be the first time Jordan has done so because of declining enrollment. Others have closed in the past, but usually because of age issues.

E-MAIL: sspeckman@desnews.com