It was an uncomfortable scenario: ax music instruction for about 4,500 elementary students or shutter a small, 100-year-old high school in South Salt Lake?
But in essence, that was the choice before the Granite School District Board of Education on Tuesday as its members moved to finalize next year's budget, wrapping up weeks of emotional debate and $28 million in budget cuts.
The board decided in a 4-3 vote to spare music and close Granite High School, effective next fall.
This has been much more than a budget issue to me for awhile, explained board chairwoman Sarah Meier, citing declining enrollment and student achievement at Granite High. We have a responsibility to make sure all our students succeed. We need to move ahead and make high school graduation a reality for every student and prepare them to succeed in the world.
Few of Granite High's supporters showed up for Tuesday's vote. But the board's decision is bound to come as a blow to hundreds of students, parents and other supporters who lobbied last week to spare their neighborhood school.
I think people feel like they've said all there is to say, said Granite High English teacher Michael Kaly, who described the mood in class this week as somber.
An alternative to large factory model high schools, Granite High is a close-knit learning community drawing 300 students from throughout the district, many of them considered at-risk. Supporters fought to preserve the school, arguing its value should be measured in its ability to reach a group of students who failed to thrive elsewhere.
But faced with budget cuts and Granite High's declining enrollment, the board decided the school's higher-than-average per pupil costs and millions of dollars in needed safety upgrades are luxuries the district can no longer afford.
It appears to me that most of South Salt Lake has voted with their feet and gone elsewhere, said board member Julene Jolley.
The board shaved $28 million from the 2009-2010 budget. Shuttering Granite High frees up $1.3 million, nearly equal the savings that would have come from jettisoning elementary music.
Board members were besieged by letters and e-mails from parents in favor of salvaging elementary music.
They also were shown data suggesting Granite High students are not performing on par with their peers at other high schools.
Though year-end test scores are rising, only 47 percent of Granite High students last year passed language arts exams, compared to 54 percent at Granger High and 88 percent at Skyline High, according to district officials.
Granite High also has higher rates of tardiness, absences and school suspensions.
To perpetuate the perception that students at Granite High can only succeed there is misguided, said Meier.
Granite High students will have until June 1 to choose which school they'd like to attend next year. How busing will pan out is unclear.
The school's newcomers program for refugees will be moved to Granite Peaks, an alternative high school.
Newcomers will spend every other day at Granite Peaks, returning to their home school for the remaining days -- an effort to resolve a civil rights complaint alleging the district segregates it newcomers by denying them access to sports and extracurricular offerings that aren't now available at Granite High.
The city of South Salt Lake is reportedly interested in buying the old school building, said District Superintendent Stephen Ronnenkamp.
Teachers and staff will be reassigned to other schools.
On Tuesday, the board also reduced its police force and pared back employee health plans, yielding a savings of $2.5 million.
That's on top of other budget-trimming steps previously approved, including a reassignment of some 90 district employees and shortening of the school year.
Bemoaning the loss of another option, board member Dan Lofgren who voted to save Granite High said, I have great fears about Granite leaving and the schools that feed into Granite withering and what that means for South Salt Lake ... If Granite is failing its academic mission, then shame on us, not shame on them. Closing a school should be the last place to go when balancing a budget.