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Jordan District may close schools

Public input is sought regarding 5 options

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The state's largest school district knows how to save $150 million: Close 15 schools, use more portable classrooms and redraw 50 school boundaries.

Dollar wise? Yes. Doable? No way, Jordan District Superintendent Barry Newbold said Tuesday.

But the community might pick better ways to balance shrinking student enrollments in the north and east with growth in the south and west.

That could mean closing a few elementary and middle schools, redrawing boundaries, propping enrollments with special programs or doing nothing — and ultimately, paying more taxes.

The school district, beginning tonight at Bingham High, wants to hear from the public in four open houses. Residents also can get more information and weigh in online at www.jordandistrict.org.

"Some parents will be very sad; they don't want schools to close," said Shauna Richards, PTA Region VI director, South Jordan resident and member of the district's Facility Planning Committee. "But there are also parents asking schools to be combined . . . so they have more kids to run different programs."

The state's largest school district of 74,000 students expects to grow by 15,000 by the end of the decade.

At the same time, enrollment is declining in the north and east, according to initial studies by the private Wikstrom Economic and Planning Consultants.

In February 2003, Jordan District voters approved a $281 million bond to build 22 schools in growing areas.

Now comes the hard part: Finding more efficient building use in areas where there just aren't as many students as there used to be.

A 55-member committee of parents, residents without schoolchildren, district workers, teachers and others examined the issue for seven months. Assisted by Wikstrom under a separate $50,000 contract, the committee wants the public to weigh in on five options.

"We're trying to . . . make suggestions to the district to operate more efficiently. Unfortunately, that comes at a cost," said Andrea Orton, committee member and community council chairwoman at Cottonwood Heights Elementary, which is in a declining enrollment area. "Of course, schools are going to have to close or be consolidated in order for the district to operate efficiently."

Proposals for the declining enrollment area's elementary and middle schools are:

Option A: Do nothing. Elementary schools would maintain an average 563 students — by comparison, some high-growth elementaries exceed 1,000 students — and remain an average 76 percent full. Middle schools would have an average 1,125 students and be 84 percent full. Taxes will rise as new schools open in growth areas as approved by voters.

Option B: Two elementary schools would close and up to 10 school boundaries would move. Schools would return to a traditional calendar and have no portables. Elementaries would average 599 students and be 90 percent full; middle schools would have 1,125 students and be 86 percent full, because they would no longer have portables.

The district would need one new bus, costing $75,000 plus $1,875 a year. But it could save $714,000 in annual operation costs, more than $7 million in repair, renovation and reconstruction, plus make $11 million if it sold closed school properties. That totals more than $18 million in one-time capital money that could be spent otherwise.

Option C: Three elementaries and one middle school would close, and 11 to 20 elementary and up to 10 middle school boundaries would change. Schools would be on traditional calendars and keep their portables. Elementaries would enroll an average 619 students and be 89 percent full; middle schools would have 1,266 students and be 94 percent full. The district would need four new buses. It would save $2 million in ongoing costs and $43 million for buildings, including property sale proceeds.

Option D: Five elementary schools and one middle school would close and 11 to 20 elementary and up to 10 middle school boundaries would be redrawn. Elementaries would average 663 students and be 91 percent full; middle schools would have 1,266 students and be 94 percent full. Schools would keep their traditional or year-round calendars. The district would need six new buses. It would save $2.7 million in ongoing costs and $58.7 million for buildings, including property sale proceeds.

Option E: All schools would be year-round and have six portables. Thirteen elementaries and two middle schools would close, and up to 40 elementary and 10 middle school boundaries would change. Elementaries would average 928 students and be 94 percent full; middle schools would have 1,446 students and be 98 percent full. The district would need 25 new buses and 107 portables. It would save $6.5 million in ongoing costs and $69.2 million in capital costs and receive $82.5 million from selling properties.

The first and last options are intended as comparisons.

The committee will use public input to revise and recommend options in June to the Jordan Board of Education.

The board could then initiate another process to identify which schools might close, change boundaries, or resort to other measures to better use buildings using criteria drawn up last fall, including enrollment (including students attending by choice), building condition, social impacts and others. Changes would take effect in fall 2005.


E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com