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Granite ponders closures

Board considers 4 options to help ensure educational equity

The Granite Board of Education is warm to examining three options, which include closing between five and seven schools, to make the district more efficient — and Tuesday, added a fourth that would rebuild Granite High, and possibly, Granger High, as a small school to better serve its community.

That's under a Tuesday board vote, which followed a nearly a three-hour presentation, discussion, some public input and a brief verbal volley between the board and supporters of Wasatch Junior High, who said they were left out of the meeting's public comment period and the board's discussion.

The 69,000-student district, the state's second-largest, has 8,700 empty seats, costing taxpayers $3 million a year to sustain, the district has reported. Last spring, a building utilization study found schools west of 5600 West are crowded, while those east of State Street are part empty.

An options committee of parents and school workers has been examining ways to ensure educational equity by creating schools with the right amount of students to support solid programs. The public last spring chimed in on how the district should proceed. And the school board in June voted to explore options aside from leaving all alone.

A month later, the east-bench Wasatch Junior High was engulfed by fire attributed to an electrical problem in a computer server area. Wasatch now is operating at Churchill Junior High as a school within a school.

The district says the fire will not sway the study's outcomes.

The options committee last month forwarded three options to school communities, where they sought input from about 350 parents.

Tuesday, the board heard the options for the first time. It voted to keep them on the table, and ask the committee to draw up the fourth option for their examination Sept. 27, when they'll vote on which options ought to go out to October open houses for public input.

The first three options would close schools, between five and seven of them, depending on the option. They all would reconfigure boundaries, mainly with the idea of keeping students together as they move through the school system rather than splitting them into several high schools.

The options are complex. And they spurred a lot of comments from the board and hushed talk among the some 300 people packing the board room and adjacent halls, some of whom sported badges supporting Wasatch Junior High and Canyon Rim Elementary that feeds into it. Two of three options would close Wasatch, and all three would close Canyon Rim and Morningside elementaries.

Some board members wondered whether Eastwood Elementary ought to be examined for closure instead of Canyon Rim, which one parent noted is nestled safely in a residential area.

A Morningside school committee member urged the district to consider effects of displacing a gifted magnet program and services for students through the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

Board President Patricia Sandstrom said closing Granite High would displace an at-risk student body where 30 languages are spoken.

"Now you tell me, are they going to fit into the bigger schools? I'm telling you, no," she said.

Colleague Judy Weeks reiterated the sentiment for Granger High.

Another parent urged the board to keep open Evergreen Junior High, called an ethnically and economically diverse school attractive to students from outside boundaries.

An Olympus parent asked that the school board keep their eyes wide open in making a complex decision. "You have to focus on . . . providing the best quality education you can for every constituent of this school district," said Frank Falk. "Listen to the people."

But Wasatch parents said they didn't get a chance to voice their concerns Tuesday.

"We just didn't get a chance to be represented and we should have been. We were told that we couldn't, and that there wouldn't be public input," parent Rich Matheson said, more than an hour after six parents from other communities were allowed to speak. "(Our) frustration is with the process."

District spokesman Randy Ripplinger was flabbergasted by the comments, and tried to sort out where Wasatch parents got the bad information. He also said anyone can call 646-4529 to make arrangements to address the board.

"Every call that came to the public relations office this morning or anytime prior to noon today was listed for public comment," Ripplinger said.

The board said they were listening to Wasatch parents, had kept all their e-mail correspondence, and would continue to listen to their concerns.

"We hear what you all are saying, and we want time to study this, and put this in the perspective of what's best for . . . the entire Granite School District," board member Carole Cannon said.

Parents, however, have to understand changes are coming, board member Sarah Meier said.

"It's always, 'We don't care what you do, as long as you don't change us,' " Meier said of comments she receives from parents across the district. "You can't look at it that way, because then, we would have status quo, and you have told us that is not acceptable. . . . So please, take off the blinders."

Paul Shepherd, director of planning and boundaries, said more information on the options will be posted online as soon as possible.

For more information on the options, or how they affect your schools, call the district office of planning and boundaries at 646-4123.

A final board vote is scheduled for Nov. 15.