BOUNTIFUL — The Davis School District is considering shuttering Washington Elementary School and sending its students to schools in the southern part of Davis County.
Parents and community members voiced concern with the proposition at a well-attended public forum Thursday. The plan is still being developed and the meeting was held in order to gather community input before the school board makes a final decision.
Community Council Chairman Mitch Davis grew emotional talking about the possibility of closing the school.
"I realize there are other schools that have greater opportunities or other opportunities for students to excel, but it hurts me to break up the family," he said.
District spokesman Chris Williams said the decision to consider closing Washington was made after an annual review of each school’s enrollment and staffing needs.
This year, 266 students are enrolled at the school, according to Utah State Board of Education data. It has the smallest student body of any elementary school in the district, followed by Fremont Elementary School with 302 students. Comparatively, the district’s largest elementary is Sand Springs Elementary School, which houses 1,035 students this year.
Washington’s enrollment has been fewer than 300 students since 2009, something Elementary Director Helene Van Natter attributed to the opening of Foxboro Elementary School in North Salt Lake City around that time.
This year there are 122 students who live within Washington's boundaries but attend other Davis School District institutions, according to district data. The largest number of those with a boundary exception — 17 — attend Bountiful Elementary School. Van Natter said the district doesn’t know how many more could be attending charter or private schools.
Only 50 students who live outside Washington’s boundaries are attending the school on a boundary exception this year.
While several audience members said they liked the small size of Washington, community council member Dee Hansen said she taught at a small charter school and disliked not having anyone to collaborate with.
"Academically it would make more sense to have a bigger school," she said.
District policy mandates schools have one teacher for every 26.875 full time equivalent students, or FTE. FTE enrollment numbers are different because they take into account other factors instead of just a headcount. This year, Washington’s FTE is 236, which means the school should only have eight or nine teachers. Currently, there are 11.
“We’re supplementing,” Van Natter said.
Another reason the school is being considered for closure is the building itself. Van Natter said the district updates a list daily detailing facilities needs and Washington is No. 7 in terms of the urgency of the building's problems. Facilities employees have tagged it as needing to be rebuilt.
"Washington is in need of a rebuild, not immediately, but soon," Van Natter said. "It's to the point where you don't just keep fixing and fixing things. You need to consider a rebuild."
Williams said the building’s classrooms and teaching spaces, media center, athletic area, seismicity, ceilings and windows are all rated “low” in comparison to other Davis School District buildings.
Should Washington close, Williams said the other schools in the area which might take on its student population are Meadowbrook, Bountiful, Woods Cross, Orchard and Adelaide elementary schools.
All five schools have the capacity for more students with the exception of Bountiful Elementary School, which will have the capacity after it's ongoing rebuild is finished.
Van Natter said it’s unclear now which students would go where until the boundaries are officially changed and approved by the school board.
“We’re talking about it but we’re not sure what the decision will be or how it will affect any of these schools,” Williams added.
Washington Elementary is a Title I school, which means it has enough underserved and impoverished students to qualify for federal assistance. Several community members and parents at the meeting were concerned about what would happen to that money should the school close.
"Title I funds follow the children but you have to reach a certain percentage of free and reduced students to be considered a Title I school and received monies," Elementary Director Gwen Hill said to the audience.
Of the schools Washington students would be sent to should the school close, only Adelaide and Meadowbrook have a Title I designation.
"You have such a small population going into their school you'd only change their free and reduced (lunch) numbers at the very most by 3 percent, so that doesn't make them title schools,” Van Natter said.
Schools without a Title I designation still offer a myriad of support programs including intervention programs, speech therapy, English as a second language courses and teachers. Students who might attend a school without a Title I designation would however lose access to before and after school programs as well as summer school at their own school.
"But you can with with a different school if your school doesn't provide it," Hill said.
For example, Van Natter said 16 of the 51 students who attend Washington's before and after school programs don't' live within the school's boundaries.
Any full time staff and teachers displaced by a closure would have a job open to them elsewhere in the district.
"When the kids move, we're going to need teachers where the kids are afterward," Hill said.
Audience members also asked about town homes and subdivisions being built in the area, but Van Natter said the district has worked with city planners and they're not worried about population growth. The school also has a diverse population, so the meeting was translated in real time in Spanish and Marshallese.
Van Natter said if the school board decides to close Washington the district would hold on to the property for the time being. No further plans have been made.
The district’s data and all public feedback from the meeting will be presented to the school board at a work session Tuesday.