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Being in the shoes of closing schools is particularly uncomfortable

General manager

Last week the committee that is studying whether to close East Carbon High School and Helper Junior High met with parents, students and interested parties from both communities. At times the meetings were tense and in some cases they were down right uncomfortable.

That's because deciding whether or not to close a school hits so close to home for almost anyone, anywhere.

During the 14 years I worked for Granite School District in the 1970s and 1980s, the board of education there closed a number of schools. Each time one was proposed for closure and then was subsequently shut down, there were outcrys and concerns about students and their well being.

And rightly so.

A school district has an obligation to take care of students no matter what community they live in, no matter what socioeconomic background they come from and no matter what ethnic group they belong to. A districts main concern should always be the students and their education.

However, school districts also need to watch the bottom line. Public education is not like running a business, profits don't come from the black ink, but from the number of students that go through the system and succeed. But just the same, they need to look at costs and economies where they can.

At the meetings last week there was also a lot of concern for the communities involved. Schools are an integral part of any community, but even more so in very small towns. They help determine a lot of things, including whether people want to live in a particular area or not. Many who spoke at the meeting were concerned about the loss of community should the schools close, many other spoke of the economic impact a school closing would have on their town.

In both meetings, and I stayed for almost all of each, I didn't hear one citizen or official say that a school should be closed. No one I heard supported shutting down a building. Even the committee that was there to study the issue was non-committal, largely because they were there to study the facts at that point and not make decisions. However, it will be their job to make recommendations to the board of education, and that apparently will be done at the board meeting this Wednesday night.

Sometimes evaluating what is best for students and what is best for the bottom line come into direct opposition to each other. I remember one year when I was submitting my budget for my department to Granite's financial officer he told me, "I think everything you have asked for is perfectly legitimate. You have real needs for your department, there is no doubt. However, we only have so much money and when funds are limited, that money must go to the direct education of the students. So I can tell you right now, you are only going to get a fraction what I know you need."

I always told the people that worked in my department that if we made cars our product would be transportation. If we made widgets the product would be devices that did something. But when you work in education, the only product is students; hopefully students that will gain the skills and desire to go far in life.

According to the board president, Grady McEvoy, this will not be a long, drawn out affair. That is the best decision the school district could make. Leaving people in limbo about what is going to happen is bad enough, but even worse is making a decision and then drawing out the process is even worse. I remember it took two years to shut down one school in Granite; it was a painful and heart wrenching experience for all involved. The only thing I can think to compare it to is pulling a band aid off my hairy arm. It's best to do it quickly.

In the next two weeks those five members of the board of education will have one of the toughest decisions of their life to make if the committee recommends closing one or both schools. While no one at the meetings actually supported closing a school, there are a lot of people in the county in general who have voiced opinions that one school or another needs to be closed so that taxpayers money can be better spent. Most of those people see it as a purely economic decision that is as clear cut as buying a lower priced can of peas at the grocery store.

For those involved it is a much more emotional issue; an issue of community and belonging.

So, as with all decisions, the board will be wrong no matter what their choice is.

All of them will be wearing very uncomfortable shoes for awhile.

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