Possible closure of West Elementary to save money has been shelved by Tooele County School District, while work continues to make further budget cuts without impacting classrooms.
On Aug. 6 Supt. Scott Rogers told school board members that, at their request, he’s moving forward to develop a 10-year facilities plan before any school closure is considered.
“We need to be able to look at all of the data and say, ‘here are all of the buildings, here’s the capacity, here’s our current enrollment, here’s how many portables we have, and where can we move kids,’” he said. “The discussion needs to start with boundaries and full utilization of our facilities, and the useful life of those facilities.”
The superintendent’s comments are related to a July 16 school board meeting at which more than 120 citizens attended and several spoke in opposition to closing West Elementary. What evidently alarmed citizens to attend was a published agenda for that meeting. It included an item about prospective school closures and had West Elementary in parentheses.
At that meeting, the dominant message heard from speakers was for the school board and Rogers to find other ways in which to cut the district’s budget without closing the school. Moving students from overcrowded schools to under-capacity schools, such as West Elementary, was also urged.
“I think we got good feedback and we listened to it,” said Rogers about the July 16 meeting. As a result, the school board directed him to pursue the development of a 10-year facilities plan. No timeline or completion date was mentioned.
The closure of West Elementary could reportedly save the district approximately $500,000 a year. When Rogers took the school district helm last month, the school board directed him to cut $1.4 million from the 2013-2014 school year budget, and then another $1 million from the budget year after that. Since July 1, he’s identified approximately $1.2 million in savings, all or most of it coming from operational budgets, not from teachers’ pay or affecting instruction quality in the classroom.
During his superintendent’s report on Aug. 6, Rogers told school board members that “we’re trying to stay away from, again, furlough days or salaries” while continuing to find new places to cut expenses. He said there aren’t any more $200,000 to $300,000 items that can be eliminated; the job now is to go through every department and find expenses that can be reduced.
“… Really what we need is to find our reductions in operating costs from year to year, so, we’re doing our best to stay away from the classrooms, stay away from employee livelihood, and do what’s right for students,” he said. “I’m aware that there’s 50,000 different opinions on what should be cut, and what should not be cut, and I’m definitely open. I’ve received a lot of feedback and emails from patrons within the district with good ideas.”
He added, “As we move forward looking at the budget, I’d like to look into a patron advisory type of a budget committee process that starts in February or March, well before you (the school board) look at the budget in May, so we can get some patron input year-round.”