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In-depth: The impact of school closures

Students at Hillcrest Elementary School in Ogden take a coding class. (Photo: Mike Anderson / KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — In the last five years, at least 32 district and charter schools throughout the state have closed, with at least three more closures coming after this school year.

When KSL learned the Salt Lake School District Board of Education was discussing whether to close M. Lynn Bennion Elementary near 400 S. and 800 E., we wanted to see how common closures are and what happens to a community when a school closes.

 

The Ogden School District is getting close to deciding whether to close one elementary school at the end of this year. In their last board meeting, they went over some of the older buildings with lower enrollments and high operating costs.

“We understand if the board were to make a decision moving forward with consolidation, people are going to be upset,” said district spokesman Jer Bates.

District leaders say both students and faculty would be moved to other schools.

The Davis District says the same thing about Washington Elementary, now that they have voted to close it and move everyone into the five other elementary schools in Bountiful.

“In the end, the better hope for the children of Washington Elementary is to bring them together with other students,” said board member Cheryl Phipps.

These have all been enrollment decisions, which appears to be behind the majority of school closures around the state in recent years. However, the Granite District Board recently voted to close Oquirrh Hills Elementary because of failing performance.

Carrie Chalverus, a parent at Salt Lake City’s Bennion Elementary, believes this process in her neighborhood has not been open enough.

“There wasn’t much communication,” she said, explaining that they did not realize that a Building Usage Committee could end up recommending that the school be closed.  “The committee is making recommendations to the board, but it is not made up of the communities it will impact.”

She also wants to know if there really is a budgetary need to close the school.

“I cannot find any (research) that says this is good for kids, that it’s good for communities, I can’t find anything that says it gives the school better use of dollars,” said Chalverus.

Ogden School Board members acknowledged a fear of change as they discussed this month how they might have to close a school this year.

“If parents portray it to students that it will be scary and hard, then it’s going to be scary and hard. But if they treat it like adventure — your friends are going with you — then it can go either way depending on how parents help their kids through it,”  said board member Jennifer Zundel.

“What we want to do, is help people make that transition as smoothly as possible,” said Bates.