|Carbon High counselor Rick Deaton speaks to ninth graders in the Helper Junior High cafeteria on Monday morning while they begin the task of registering for high school next year. Students learned on Thursday that the school they now attend will be open next year after the school board voted to accept a study committees proposal. At present the future for East Carbon High School is not so certain.|
During a heavily attended meeting last week, the Carbon County Board of Education decided not to close Helper Junior High based upon the recommendation of a study committee that had reviewed the matter during the last month. The vote was unanimous.
However, the decision about what to do regarding East Carbon High School, which was also under study and recommended for closure by the committee, will wait until Thursday when a vote will be taken on the issue.
The vote to study the matter further and conduct a public input meeting at the school on April 21 passed 3-2, with board of education members Barry Deeter and Jim Leonard casting the dissenting votes.
The study committee made up of district superintendent David Armstrong, business manager Bill Jewkes, board president Grady McEvoy, Carbon Education Association president Jim Thompson and assistant superintendents Patsy Bueno and Doug Hintze has been studying the two schools.
During public meetings slated in the impacted communities two weeks ago, the committee presented the information the panel had collected and allowed the citizens to comment on the school closure issues.
The decision concerning Helper Junior High was based upon the fact that the board reserved the right to revisit the situation in the school in a few years, if and when enrollment drops to 120 students or below or when academic programs can no longer be provided at the current level.
According to the study and committee's recommendation, Helper Junior High's enrollment is currently at 192 students, an acceptable level at which to keep the school operating. The size of studentbody allows the district to keep in place fairly equal course selections and extracurricular activities between Helper and Mont Harmon Junior High in Price.
The financial expenditures per student at the Helper school are currently consistent with Mont Harmon and Carbon High.
But according to the study committee, East Carbon is not in the same position. When considering the four areas that were studied - enrollment, course selection, test scores and finances- the committee felt that the school should be closed.
The members of the study committee cited the following reasons for making the closure recommendation to the board of education:
Enrollment is currently at 117 students at East Carbon High. A number of the students are not from the East Carbon area, but are from other areas of the county.
The number of students actually from East Carbon and Sunnyside numbers around 100 in six grades, seventh through 12th.
The course selections in the junior high and high school grades are not comparable with Mont Harmon or with Carbon High School.
The committee indicated that there are 35 additional courses available at Carbon High when compared with East Carbon.
The number does not include the concurrent enrollment courses available at the College of Eastern Utah to high school students.
At Mont Harmon, there are nine additional courses.
Special education at East Carbon is taught by one teacher. Carbon High School has four special education teachers and a counselor for the students.
At Mont Harmon, there are three special education teachers.
In terms of extracurricular activities ,there are seven additional clubs and six more athletic programs at Carbon High.
Mont Harmon offers two more athletic programs and there is also one more club at the school.
Finally, the committee cited the fact that the expenditure of funds per student at East Carbon is nearly twice as high hen compared to Carbon and Mont Harmon.
Figures cited at the meeting showed that the district is spending $3705 per year per student at Carbon High. At East Carbon High, the cost is $6453 per student.
"However much of that extra cost is absorbed by the fact that the state gives us special small school money," said Jewkes during the meeting. "If you factor out those funds the actual expenditure per student at the school is $4278."
In addition, the committee recommended that Petersen Elementary in Sunnyside be relocated to the East Carbon High building.
'The recommendation is partially based on the fact that one of the concerns the committee heard during the public meeting in Sunnyside was that the community would be negatively impacted by the loss of the high school's physical facilities.
The members also recommended that the district provide activity buses and special emergency cards at the schools the students from the east county area would be attending so that there would be more contacts should something arise.
The committee also recommended that a special orientation be scheduled for East Carbon students to relieve the anxiety of switching schools and to assist in integrating the youth into the schools they would attend.
After the committee's presentation and recommendation for the closure of East Carbon High, the board allowed residents in attendance at the meeting to ask questions and make statements.
During the public comment period earlier in the meeting, East Carbon Mayor Dale Andrews had presented the board with a petition signed by 605 residents of the East Carbon/Sunnyside area urging the education officials keep the school open.
Andrews cited the stability of the community as well the potential hazards and safety problems students may face in being transported to Price to attend school as reasons to not close the facility.
Liz Fergusen from East Carbon also presented figures to the board concerning socio-economic data comparing the schools and the county with the state.
"We have a study from the East Carbon area that says 64 percent of the students at the high school fall into a disadvantaged category," said Fergusen. "In the district overall, the rate is only 45 percent and statewide it is 31 percent. The board should consider these factors before making a decision."
Before opting to extend the study on East Carbon High, the board participated in an extended discussion on the matter.
Deeter asked the superintendent about the difference in the number of electives offered. He asked why there weren't more advanced placement classes offered at East Carbon and if there were any way of telling whether the students would take advantage of concurrent enrollment classes at the college if they came to the Carbon High campus to attend school.
"We simply would need more teachers at East Carbon to offer more electives and the student to teacher ratio is already 12-1 there ( as compared to 28-1 at Carbon High)," said Armstrong. "As for advanced placement, we just don't have the teachers there who are qualified to teach more of those classes. When it comes to concurrent enrollment, I believe the proximity of the college to Carbon's campus will encourage students to take those courses."
According to district officials, some concurrent enrollment courses are offered at East Carbon through the Ed Net system, but few students take advantage of the television instruction classes. To take the courses, students must have a 3.7 grade point average.
Board member Debbie Blackburn wondered if anyone had kept track of the history for students who have graduated from East Carbon. She asked if the graduates go to college or further their educations.
Officials said there was no definitive answer for the questions because the district does not presently keep statistics on the situation.
The discussion moved to what would happen to the scholarships presented to the local high school students by East Carbon Development Corporation.
"Presently, ECDC gives 10 scholarships per year to students from the school and they have said they will continue that with students from that area even if they attend Carbon High," said Armstrong. "But they also say they will evaluate those periodically and that, of course, means they could pull those awards at any time."
Leonard indicated that he was most concerned about the struggling students who might have to face the change.
"I think kids who do well in school will do well anywhere. But I am most worried about those who are having problems at East Carbon and would have to face class sizes of 28-1," stated Leonard.
Armstrong said he felt that, with the tracking systems the district has in place at Carbon High, no students would fall through the cracks and the staff would make extra efforts to make sure that they do not falter.
Deeter brought up the fact that, without the special school money added into the formula, the district is actually spending about $500 more per student at East Carbon than at Carbon High. He and Leonard questioned whether closing East Carbon High was worth such small savings in the school district's base budget..
"When we vote on this, whatever makes the difference, it won't only be about the $500," pointed out Blackburn .
McEvoy indicated that not accepting the recommendations of the committee could cause serious concerns.
"I think the numbers that those opposed to the recommendation cite hold water. But the committee took the whole picture into account in coming up with the recommendation," said McEvoy. "If the 12-1 student to teacher ratio was the only factor, it would be simple. But even when you look at that factor, the test scores for that kind of teacher to student ratio doesn't match up. With that kind of ratio, the test scores should be through the roof as compared with Carbon's 28-1 numbers. We can band aid this problem for a few years, but we can't fix the overall situation. It is in the best interest of the students for them to have more opportunities."
At that point, Leonard moved to end discussion and vote to not study the situation any farther. The motion included a statement to keep the school open. Deeter seconded, but the motion failed 3-2.
Board member Boyd Bell then moved to study the matter further and to conduct a meeting with the citizens win East Carbon before making a final decision. The motion was approved 3-2.
The board set the the public meeting on April 20 at 6 p.m. in the gym at East Carbon.
In conclusion, the board scheduled the meeting to vote on the East Carbon High issue at the school district offices on April 21 at 5 p.m.