Salt Lake City School District audit reports declining enrollment, low capacity

Dec 16, 2022, 11:00 AM | Updated: 5:46 pm

Image of Salt Lake City School District offices. The district and UTA announced the return of free ...

FILE: Salt Lake City School District offices are pictured in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — In the face of years-long shrinking school enrollment, the Salt Lake City School Board made no changes to address dwindling classroom sizes, costing the city district $3.6 million, a 78-page state audit released Tuesday found.

Enrollment in the Salt Lake City School District has declined by 13% during the past five years. And the audit noted that was more than almost any other district in the state.

Discussing the fallout from the audit, KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic spoke with Mary Katherine Perry, who is a parent in the district and Yándary Chatwin, SLCSD spokeswoman.

Debbie pointed out this statistic from the audit: In the 2022 school year, SLCSD used 57% of the available space in its elementary schools.

Each year, it costs $15,041 to educate a student in the SLCSD. The state average per student per year is $12,295, Debbie noted. 

“[The audit recommended] that six schools be closed,” Dave said. “If you redistribute the kids from those six closed schools — wrap your mind around this — all the other schools with a huge influx of kids would still only be 75% full.

“We the people, we can’t say no to education, we can’t say no to the kids. We can’t say no to teachers, and you took advantage of us. That’s incredibly wrong. And very weak leadership doesn’t even begin to describe this,” he said.

Perry said without the audit, she would not have known about the money wasted.

“The legislative auditor’s office in the Legislature is helping to kind of shine a brighter light on the local school district. As an average parent or taxpayer, we would not know these things” she said. “In a window of time where they should have closed six elementary schools, they rebuilt three and so for the rest of us… we would not have known that.”

Salt Lake City School District responds to audit

According to the audit, the Salt Lake City School Board approved a property tax increase of $7.5 million to meet capital needs. Those needs included the rebuilding of Meadowlark and Edison elementary schools, which were not seismically safe. 

Given that fact and declining enrollment, auditors said “These schools appear to have been good candidates for closure rather than rebuild.”

 Yándary Chatwin, SLCSD spokeswoman, acknowledged the declining enrollment in the district but said that location of schools matters, too.

Chatwin said the two elementary schools are located in the far western part of the city.

“The kids out there, they deserve to have a school near their neighborhood, a school they can get to easily and a school that is seismically safe,” she said.  

Chatwin added that the school board will elect new leadership beginning with the new year.

“Some of them are not even sworn in yet and they’re already asking us these tough questions,” she said.

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Salt Lake City School District audit reports declining enrollment, low capacity