Meetings bring out comments on school closure
|The members of the committee set up by Carbon School District to study the possible closure of schools listen as residents speak on the issues at Helper Junior High on Tuesday night. School board president Grady McEvoy says that a decision concerning the closures will be made quickly.|
A research committee formed by the Carbon School District to explore school closure options got an earful from the residents of both East Carbon and Helper on Monday and Tuesday nights when they held meetings to get input from those who would be impacted by such action.
"We heard some good ideas from the people who came up to the microphone to comment," said school board president Grady McEvoy Tuesday evening after the meeting. "There were a lot of things said that we hadn't thought of."
The two meetings had been announced in the Sun Advocate for over a week before they took place, and flyers that were passed around both towns almost seemed to guarantee a good turnout at both East Carbon High and Helper Junior High. The committee was certainly not disappointed by the numbers of people at either venue. Over 200 showed up Monday in East Carbon and between 400-500 came to the meeting on Tuesday in Helper.
Both meetings began similarly, with McEvoy presenting the subject and the speakers before residents got their chance to comment.
"This committee was set up only to gather facts," said McEvoy to both groups. "This committee cannot close your school. Only the school board can do that."
Because of the emotion that was displayed in the last week concerning the fate of the schools, the committee decided to keep the rules about comments tight and for the most part only allowed one minute to those wanting to ask questions or make comments. At both venues, when that time limitation was announced, there was some catcalls and grumbling about it.
"What we want to do is the make the best decisions we can for the students and the district," McEvoy told the crowds. "All we are asking for is a civil discourse. If the board does make the decision to close a school they will hold a public meeting at the school building so the residents of the area can talk to them directly. Right now we are just listening to what you have to say."
After McEvoy's opening statements Superintendent David Armstrong made a presentation that showed the four areas that the committee was examining for each school. He listed enrollment, differences in course selections that are offered at the schools as compared to Mont Harmon Junior High and Carbon High, various test scores as compared to overall district numbers and the financial situation as it pertained to each school.
At the East Carbon meeting Armstrong revealed figures that showed enrollment at the high school has dropped from 214 in 1995 to 127 on Oct. 1 of 2004. He also showed that the district had projected the enrollment in the next five years as dropping each year and actually dipping down to 94 in 2009 before rising a little in 2010 to 107.
East Carbon also has many less course electives that students can take while attending school there as compared with what is available at Carbon High. Similar facts were presented about the difference between what junior high students at East Carbon High were offered and what is available at Mont Harmon Junior High in Price.
Test scores involving a number of testing instruments also showed that students at East Carbon generally score lower than the other similar schools in the district. One exception was the reading scores on the UBSCT test given by the state. When that was shown to the assembled crowd they cheered loudly.
District financial manager Bill Jewkes then explained the financial situation concerning the school. He showed figures that if the school has an enrollment of 165 students, based on the $2,500 the district gets for each student per year, operating the building and paying it's employees puts the district in the red $141,632. At 127 students that loss would be $232,715. At present the schools average class size is 12 per teacher.
At the Helper Junior High meeting the superintendent presented the same kinds of facts. In 1995 Helper had 275 students. This past fall that had dropped to 204. District projections show the expected number of students that will be attending the school in 2010 will 113 if everything stays the same as it is now.
|A crowd filled East Carbon High's gym on Monday night to hear the details of the possible school closure and to make comments about the situation.|
Because Helper is a junior high, its electives were only compared with Mont Harmon. In many areas Helper came close to matching up with Mont Harmon.
"What we found as we looked at this area is that some of the classes that are taught at Mont Harmon are instead represented at Helper Junior in the form of clubs," said Armstrong.
Scores on tests at Helper Junior were generally lower than they are at Mont Harmon, but Armstrong also pointed out the differences were not that great in many places and that Helper had vastly improved their scores in the last couple of years.
Jewkes also talked about financial matters at the Helper meeting. He said with 220 students Helper would lose $71,402 per year. If that number dropped to 166 students it would mean the district would lose $161,181 on the school.
"One thing I want everyone to remember is that secondary schools all tend to lose money, where as elementary schools usually operated in the black," he said.
After those presentations were finished both meetings were opened up for public comments and questions.
At the East Carbon meeting comments centered on transportation problems (safety and cost) the district would face by busing all the students to Price, what closing the school would do to the two communities of Sunnyside and East Carbon. Other concentrated on the job losses it would cause in the area and how it would affect property values, the economic well being of the town, the effect taking kids from the small school environment to a large one would have on the students, worries about acceptance of east county kids at the Price schools and the emotional impact such a move would have on the students.
"I realize that dollars and numbers are important in the operation of the school," said K'Lyn Hepworth when her turn came to comment. "But I am asking you to think outside the box for remedies to the situation as you consider your recommendation to the school board. The closure of this school would affect everything in our community such as the grocery store, the clinic and everything else."
Both East Carbon and Sunnyside's mayors made comments as well.
"Both communities will die with out this school," said Sunnyside Mayor Bruce Andrews. "Without that no one will move in. And what will happen to the building and it surrounding yard?"
Mayor Dale Andrews of East Carbon wondered about the how class sizes affect learning.
"How can you tell me that these kids will do better at Carbon High with 28 students to a class when they have 12 to a class here and their scores are still lower?"
Armstrong explained that research shows that class size generally doesn't affect students much after the third grade.
Many students also spoke about how much they love their school and how opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and sports would not be as available in a big school where there is more competition for spots on the teams.
At the Helper meeting many of the concerns about the possibility of closing that school were similar to those voiced the night before in East Carbon. The issues included the economic well being of the town,. Helper kids being accepted at Mont Harmon, worry about kids academic standing actually going down rather than improving, and the chance for students to be able to compete in athletics and other events being limited. The question about transportation to the Price area was not addressed largely because many of the students that go to Helper live in Spring Glen and Carbonville and already ride the bus a good distance to school.
|Maurine Tanner was one of many citizens who had comments for the committee during the meetings in East Carbon and Helper.|
"This school is important to the businessmen in this community," commented Helper City councilman Chuck Buchanan. "I hire a lot of employees in my business and one of the things prospective employees ask about are the schools. If we don't have this it will be hard to get them to move here."
Others were concerned about the emotional aspects of kids leaving their school and having to be sent to another.
"I worry about what the closure would do to property values but I worry more about what it will do to our kids," said Linda Maddox. "This may not be a Columbine, but it doesn't mean that can't happen in Utah or in Carbon School District."
However many of the comments also brought out ideas that were new to the committee. Suggestions included doing some redistricting that would include all of Carbonville and/or Westwood, busing junior high age students from East Carbon should it close, to Helper, figuring out why some students leave Helper for Mont Harmon (currently 23 attend that school from within the Helper boundaries), and re-examining the projected decline in students based on an economy that is beginning to grow again.
"I have the highest respect for those on this committee and those that sit on the school board," said Walt Boria, former school district board member. "But I feel the focus of this meeting is wrong. It shouldn't take a closure threat to get this big a crowd out to talk about this school. The district spent over a half million dollars three years ago remodeling this building so a meeting like this should be about improving this school, not closing it."
One resident wondered why the district had decided to explore closing the schools at this time.
"The reason we are looking at this now is a function of a couple of things," said McEvoy. "First was the re appointment of the superintendent, which we got through last month. Then we began to look at the numbers, enrollment, costs, those kinds of things."
One issue that was raised in East Carbon but was not mentioned at the Helper meeting was when a school or both schools would be closed should that be the boards decision.
"I have watched other districts close schools and some of them have done it over a period of a couple of years," McEvoy told the crowd at East Carbon when someone asked how long it would take. "We don't want everyone to go through that. If we are going to close any schools we will do it at the end of this year. We won't drag it on."
The committee will now take all the research they have done, along with the meeting comments they garnered from not only the public meetings, but from meetings with the schools faculties and school community councils, and put the information together to come up with recommendations about the two facilities.
That data and the recommendation is scheduled to be presented to the board of education at their regular board meeting on April 13. McEvoy said after that he expects a decision will be rendered before the end of the month on the fate of the two schools.