Falling enrollment may force SLCSD to consider closing schools
Feb 3, 2022, 6:29 PM
(Exterior of the Salt Lake City School District offices. Photo: Paul Nelson)
SALT LAKE CITY — Rapidly falling enrollment in the Salt Lake City School District has educators considering things they would rather not consider. Officials say they may need to look into closing certain schools, but only as a last resort.
People who live near shuttered schools say a closure has a bigger impact on the neighborhood than people might expect. Sugarhouse resident Gretta Millett lives near what used to be Rosslyn Heights Elementary, which closed in 2003. Millett says four of her children graduated from that school, and she believed there were plenty of kids in the area at the time, so she was stunned when the district decided to shut the doors.
Millett said, “We were really blindsided in terms of being closed, because that was not supposed to have happened.”
For a few years, the building was re-purposed to house students, temporarily, when their schools were being renovated. It’s now the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts, but Millett says it sat vacant for a while, so it was an attractive target for vandals and drug users. Millett was also worried that her youngest child would have to walk across 2100 South to get to her new school, which is a very busy street.
However, she feels the neighborhood lost something intangible, something she calls a “neighborhood village.” She believes the school brought the community together.
“I’m really pro-public schools, but I like the idea of that ‘neighborhood village,’ meaning you walk to school with the kids you live by,” she said.
Too soon to speculate
District Spokesperson Yándary Chatwin says it’s far too early to speculate about any specific school closing. Before that happens, analysts would have to look at things like overall enrollment, program enrollment, grade levels and the impact to the community.
“A school is an important part of a community. There are members who live in the neighborhood who don’t have kids there, but maybe they went to school there, themselves,” Chatwin said. “Maybe, they have a tie to that school community.”
Enrollment numbers appear to be following strange patterns in Salt Lake City. Chatwin says attendance in high schools is up, but is down in elementary schools. The biggest drop is along the city’s west side, but Chatwin says parents in that part of the city shouldn’t worry about a school closing, yet. She says they’re nowhere close to making that decision.
“We’re just saying, ‘Hey, our enrollment is declining. Let’s look at what that means for our staffing and our school needs,’” she said.
Chatwin says they started noticing a drop in student enrollment years before the COVID-19 pandemic.