Split-district plan falters
Committee votes against it; public hearing is July 28
PROVO A large crowd gathered Tuesday at the Utah County Commission chambers as an advisory committee delivered a detailed study to the commissioners about splitting the Alpine School District.
But a discussion and a decision on the controversial proposal will have to wait.
"We're here to receive the report today," said Utah County Commissioner Steve White, "not to debate it one way or another."
The seven-member committee last week voted against recommending the creation of a new school district for Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain. The approximately 50 residents who attended Tuesday's meeting did not have the chance to share their opinions with the commission.
But they will soon.
Before committee leader Gaylord Swim gave his presentation on the six-month feasibility study, White announced that a public hearing will be held July 28 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the proposed split. It would create a new public school system that is being called the Pioneer School District.
Also, a 45-day public comment period began Tuesday. It allows residents to file opinions on the county Web site, www.utahcountyonline.com.
While comments Tuesday were limited to committee members and the commission, there was an indication that the upcoming public hearing could be charged.
At one point, while Utah Rep. David Cox, R-Lehi, the only committee member who voted in favor of a split, was addressing the commission, a few people in attendance interrupted his comments by clapping and cheering. That prompted an agitated White to respond, "Please stop, or I'll have you removed."
In December, the commission appointed a committee to study the feasibility of a school district split. The research period began Jan. 6. The committee examined studies from other school districts and reviewed information from the Utah Taxpayers Association and the State Board of Education.
In addition, it commissioned Brigham Young University's business school to look at the social and financial implications of a split.
The essential finding of the feasibility study, Swim said, was that there would be a 40 percent increase in school taxes for those living within the proposed Pioneer District boundaries.
"The current Alpine District is projected to have a tax of $3.45 per $1,000 of assessed value while the (proposed district) is projected to need a tax rate of $4.84 per $1,000 of assessed value," Swim said. "As about 60 percent of total property taxes go to the school system, this translates into 24 percent total tax increase by the year 2010 for those in the new district."
Those projections do not take into account inflation, Swim said. Nor do they include bonding for new schools or operational and startup costs.
Other issues include how a district split might affect teachers' salaries and benefits.
"It was the general feeling of the committee that the tax rates necessary to sustain the high growth in the Pioneer District, coupled with the lack of clarity in law creating for potentially difficult, if not contentious, employment issues, so burden the potential division that we could not in good faith recommend it to you at this time," Swim told the commission.
It will be up to the Utah County commissioners to decide whether to put the issue on the November ballot. All registered voters within Alpine School District boundaries would be eligible to vote on the proposal.
Aaron Evans, a Lehi resident who attended Tuesday's meeting, told the Deseret Morning News that creating a new district right now is a recipe for failure.
"With no schools, with no businesses and continued growth, it would make a dust bowl out of the west side of Utah County," Evans said. "I'm not saying it's not a good idea. In the future, perhaps. But today, no."
Despite the many unknowns and complications involved in forming a new district, it is necessary, Cox said.
"I still, after six years of studying this, believe that it is a good thing to do and that now is the time to do it because if our tax base ever gets favorable, which I believe it will in the not-too-distant future, the other side of the district will never let us leave," he said.
"I've done everything I can to promote this," Cox told the commission. "Now, it's up to the public. They will have to convince you that they support it. If there isn't very much support from the community, then it may not be worth putting it on the ballot."
Lorraine Carlton said the majority of her fellow Lehi residents are opposed to the formation of a new school district. During a Lehi Roundup Days breakfast last weekend, she helped collect 3,300 signatures on a petition against putting the school district split proposal on the ballot.The committee's report is available at the County Commission office, the Alpine School District office, Lehi city offices and the Orem public library.
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