Over 125 people attended the Tooele County School Board meeting Tuesday night to show the board they don’t want an elementary school closed to help cut costs.
While it was a preliminary discussion and no school will close for the 2013-2014 school year, West Elementary was mentioned at the meeting as the school targeted for possible closure.
Superintendent Scott Rogers said that West was just a “starting point” in the ongoing discussion on how to further decrease the budget. The school district needs to cut $2.4 million over the next two years.
Currently the school board needs to cut about $700,000 to this year’s budget and another $1 million for next year’s budget.
“If we choose to close a school, it would save us about $500,000 a year,” said Rogers in a phone interview the day after the school board meeting. “In hindsight, we probably should have put Harris and a few other schools on the agenda because West isn’t the only place that we are looking at. We needed a starting point and a place to start the discussion.”
About 25 audience members came forward and spoke about why West shouldn’t be closed and how it was in a prime location because of an increase in younger residents to the area.
The dominant message from the speakers was for the school board to find ways to cut the budget without closing the school.
Laura Wall, a parent of a West Elementary student, suggested that the school board stop supplying students with school supplies and let parents fund it.
“It is common place in other districts and states that parents get their own supplies for their kids,” she said. “Many parents that I have talked to would like to provide school supplies for our kids, but also supply for parents that cannot.”
However, Utah State law requires that school districts provide supplies for students, no matter if parents spend their own money for their children.
Another prevalent theme from speakers was the possibility of changing school boundaries to move students from overcrowded schools to under capacity schools such as West.
“Some of the other schools in the district are definitely over crowded,” said Ammie Serr, a teacher at West Elementary. “I have great concerns about that as a teacher and as a parent that has kids attending school in our school district. It is really hard as a teacher to teach 26 to 27 kids in an elementary school classroom, and the bigger the class the harder it gets. It is a travesty to do that to both students and teachers. Instead of closing a school, realign those school boundaries to alleviate some of the schools that have portables, over-worked teachers, and where students are not getting the care they deserve from their teachers.”
Superintendent Rogers echoed those sentiments.
“I want to see fewer portables,” he said. “If we have existing schools that have classrooms to spare, why are we continuing to use portables? We need to look at just changing the boundaries to get kids into the schools with room. No matter what we do, someone is going to be unhappy with a decision we make whether that is changing the school boundaries or closing a school.”
School board member Scott Bryan said that because of the growth of Tooele County it may be premature to close a school in the next few years, only to ask taxpayers to fund a new school shortly after a school closure.
The school board took no action on the matter Tuesday night. Rogers said that he and the school board will continue to gather facts and take public comment on potential school closures and ways in which to cut the budget.