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Board Meeting Report - April 16, 2024

The Board of Education of Salt Lake City School District (the Board) met on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. You can watch the meeting on the district YouTube channel

Recognitions 

The Board recognized the new student board member for 2024-25, Hilina Teklemehdin, from West High School. Mary Jane “Vasey” Payne from Highland High School was selected as the alternate student board member. 

Teaching and Learning Executive Director Dr. Tiffany Hall announced the winners of the recent Battle of the Books competition. In this competition, elementary teams were asked to read 14 books and middle school teams were asked to read 20 books. They then competed against teams from other schools and answered questions about the books.  Middle school and elementary school teams competed, and the elementary teams were divided into three divisions. This year’s winners are: 

  • Elementary Jazz Division – Beacon Heights 

  • Elementary RSL Division – Mountain View 

  • Elementary Bees Division – Bonneville and Indian Hills (tie) 

  • Middle School – Hillside and West 7-8 grade program (tie). 

Superintendent Elizabeth Grant also introduced the new East High School principal, Ryan Oaks, who will start in the new role on July 1, 2024. Principal Oaks said he is looking forward to getting to know, and gaining the trust of, students, teachers, staff, and the entire East High community. He has more than twenty years of experience in secondary education and is currently serving as the principal of Hunter High School in West Valley City.  

Capital Projects Fund Budget 

The Capital Projects Fund section of the district’s annual budget includes the money used to build, remodel, and renovate district schools and offices. Business Administrator Alan Kearsley said the major projects happening in the district right now are the rebuild of the district office (which should be completed this fall), the construction of athletic fields on the former Rosslyn Heights Elementary School property (scheduled to be completed in May 2025), and the first phase of the district sustainability project. Mr. Kearsley emphasized that the Board and district are committed to maintaining safe and welcoming buildings for our students, so this section of the budget also includes a list of future projects. That list is developed via annual inspections and walk-throughs of our schools and offices.  

Mr. Kearsley said the next steps in reviewing the 2024-25 budget include: 

  • reviewing the executive summary during the May 7 Board meeting, 

  • a final budget review during the May 21 Board meeting, and  

  • a budget hearing and vote during the Board meeting on June 4. 

Closure and Boundary Adjustment Transition Activities Update

Dr. Grant reported on the latest actions the district and our schools are taking to create a smooth and welcoming transition for students affected by school closures or boundary adjustments. 

  • Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Isaac Astill is visiting each school to make sure classrooms and learning spaces are prepared for new and returning students next year. 

  • Human Resource Services is working to fulfill the superintendent’s promise that all employees affected by the closures will still have jobs in our district. They have completed placing teachers and administrators in new positions for next year and are currently working to do the same for our hourly employees who form a critical part of our school communities. 

  • The district is working with the city to analyze our new elementary school boundaries and to update or create new safe walking routes for each school. 

  • Bus routes are being reviewed and changed to accommodate the needs of students as they attend new schools next year. We anticipate that updated bus routes will be available by the end of the school year. 

Cell Phone Use Survey Summary

General Counsel Kristina Kindl and Dr. Tiffany Hall reported on recent survey results related to cell phone use in classrooms. They reported that approximately 4,000 parents, 5,000 students, and 500 teachers responded to the survey (view the results on our website). The survey results suggest most elementary students do not own a cell phone or use one at school. The number of students using cell phones increases as students get older, particularly when in high school. In high schools, most students use cell phones multiple times a day, both for personal use and school use. The survey also showed there can be a big difference in cell phone use between schools. Results also show that parents have differing views of how schools should handle the issue of cell phone use by students, as some parents prefer that cell phones not be used in classes and others support their use.  

Board members agreed to have the Board Policy Subcommittee review policies from other districts and get input from employee groups and parents to help determine if the district’s current policy on cell phones needs to be changed or updated.  

2024-25 LAND Trust Plans

Chief Officer of School Leadership and Performance, Dr. Leeson Taylor, reminded the Board about the approval process for the 2024-25 School LAND Trust Plans. Board members have access to the plans now and have been assigned specific plans to review. They have also been given feedback forms and specific issues or information to look for in their reviews. Any needed changes to the plans can be made before the Board is scheduled to approve them during the Board meeting on May 7, 2024. 

Weapons Detection Systems Survey

Dr. Taylor presented information to the Board from a recent survey about weapons detectors in our high schools. The weapons detectors represent just one of many tools in our school safety arsenal. They are located at student entrances at East High School, Highland High School, West High School, and Horizonte Instruction and Training Center. The district recently asked students, parents, and teachers to share feedback regarding the detectors. Dr. Taylor said the results of that survey were sometimes conflicting. When asked if they think the weapons detectors increase safety at the school, most parents said yes; students were evenly mixed; and teachers said no. However, when asked a little later in the survey if they were confident that the detectors have prevented weapons from coming into the schools, the majority of all three groups said yes. 

Dr. Taylor also presented the most recent usage data for the detectors. From February through March, an alert occurred on approximately 21% of the people walking through the detectors. The overwhelming majority of the alerts were caused by laptops and binders. When an alert sounds, a student is allowed to walk through the detector again. If the alert still sounds, a security guard will ask to see the student’s bag or pocket contents. If something suspicious is found or the student refuses, a school administrator is called in to handle the issue. During February and March, only 23 administrative searches were conducted across all schools. 

Washington Magnet Gifted and Talented 4-6 Update

Dr. Tiffany Hall and Extended Learning Program Supervisor Dr. Alex Parsons came to the Board with information about the Magnet Gifted and Talented pilot program in grades 4-6 at Washington Elementary. For the past three years, the district has been testing every 3rd grade student to determine magnet eligibility. This has resulted in an increase of identified students, and the Washington pilot program was started to meet the needs of the increase in students wanting to participate in the Magnet Gifted and Talented program. However, the enrollment in the Washington program is low when compared to other Magnet Gifted and Talented programs in the district.  

Dr. Parsons presented a recommendation to the Board to maintain the pilot program for one more year and evaluate the program and its enrollment in December 2024. Then, if needed, the district could create a plan to end the program at Washington. The Board voted to move this recommendation to action, but during the vote on the recommendation, four board members abstained, meaning the issue failed and the pilot program at Washington will end this school year.   

New Contract Positions

Mr. Kearsley and Dr. Grant brought to the Board eight contract positions for approval, along with draft job descriptions for each role. These eight new employees will work at the district level to help us better support our students and schools. Prior to finalizing which positions would be brought to the Board, Dr. Grant and Mr. Kearsley met with members of the Superintendent’s Executive Cabinet to discuss their team’s needs. Requests from Cabinet members were evaluated as related to the Strategic Plan for Student Achievement and based on available funds. As part of the process, the district studied its management costs independently and as compared to other school districts in Utah and across the country. Dr. Grant said district management costs across the state are low compared to other states. Our district costs are similar to those of nearby school districts, comprising just over three percent of the district budget. The Board voted to move these eight new positions to the action agenda and then voted to approve them.