Jordan School District must find ways to deal with growth without $495M bond

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20 2013 9:40 p.m. MST

RIVERTON — In the aftermath of a resounding defeat of Jordan School District's proposed $495 million bond, members of the school board and a group from the community sat down Wednesday to revisit the area's pressing question.

How can aging schools with overflowing classrooms navigate growth?

The town hall meeting of more than 40 people — including a few school board members, officials from various cities and Utah legislators — generated a list of topics they hope to see addressed as the district looks for ways to cope without the massive bond.

Nearly 70 percent of voters cast ballots against the bond, one of the largest in Utah's history. If it had passed, it would have cost the average homeowner in the district an additional $240 in annual property taxes over five years.

"We're aware that what we tried didn't go very well. We need to go in a different direction," board member Susan Pulsipher said at the opening of the meeting.

Parents voiced concern about several issues, including "pocket busing," with one father saying he's worried his kids could be transported from their home in Herriman to West Jordan for school.

They also questioned when permits would be available and due to move their students to a different school. Some asked the district to consider a series of smaller bonds, while others wondered whether schools will switch to year-round schedules or double sessions.

But those stop-gap measures are only temporary, said South Jordan resident Bruce Ward, who has children attending elementary school, junior high and high school in the district.

"As we grow, we're going to have to build at some point," Ward said. "Eventually we're going to grow out of even the best redistricting solution we come up with. So the question that all of us are going to have to face … is at what point and how are we going to fund whatever additional buildings we need? And what will those buildings look like in the future?"

And when the time comes to build, Ward drew nods from the group as he emphasized that new schools must be cost effective yet high quality.

"Opponents of the bond have been worried about, 'What do our school buildings look like?' And there were claims of extravagance," he said. "Buildings need to be built to a high enough standard that we can be using them in 50, 60 or 80 years."

Some aired criticism about the school district, bemoaning the fact that some design committees formed in order to assess building options have been postponed and saying the bond failed in part because the public doesn't trust the district's history of financial management.

Others decried the cost of the school district's "Taj Mahal" administration building and asked that information from the district be more proactively disseminated.

A representative of South Jordan also addressed the group, denying recent murmurings that the city is considering separating to form its own school district.

"The comments were made by one individual City Council member and do not represent the views of other City Council members or the city," said South Jordan spokesman Chip Dawson, adding that the idea had only been raised briefly and with little discussion at end of one City Council meeting. "There is no desire for action at this point."

South Jordan City Councilman Chuck Newton proposed the split earlier this week.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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