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West Jordan City Council passes on ordering study to look at school district split

Published: Thursday, July 10 2014 6:18 a.m. MDT

The West Jordan City Council declined Wednesday to commission a study that would look at the feasibility of separating from the Jordan School District.

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WEST JORDAN — City leaders on Wednesday declined using taxpayer dollars to study the feasibility of separating from the Jordan School District, but voters may yet be asked to decide the issue in November.

Members of the West Jordan City Council could not reach an agreement on several proposed actions regarding a study on a district split, and at several points council members criticized the politics that had forced them to consider the issue.

"It’s been disturbing to us to see that our children's future is going to be threatened again by a neighboring city," Councilman Jeff Haaga said. "We’re looking at five members of South Jordan (City Council) who may decide the future of this district."

For the last several months, members of the South Jordan City Council have discussed the possibility of separating the city from the Jordan School District as a result of what they see as poor financial and facilities planning by school officials.

South Jordan recently commissioned a feasibility study to explore the possibility of creating an independent South Jordan School District, which prompted city officials in West Jordan to consider a study of their own.

Utah law requires a study be conducted prior to placing the question of a district split before voters, and ballot questions must be submitted by Aug. 5.

Council members in West Jordan were unanimous in their support for maintaining a complete Jordan School District, but individual members also expressed a desire that the city maintain its options should its neighboring city decide to pursue a voter-approved split.

"In a way I feel like our hand is being forced, to an extent, based on the proposed actions of a neighboring city," Councilman Chris McConnehey said.

The proposed West Jordan study would have cost roughly $41,000 of taxpayer dollars from the city's general fund. But council members were unconvinced that the three-week window allowed by the Aug. 5 deadline would be sufficient to generate sufficient and worthwhile information.

Councilman Justin Stoker also cautioned that commissioning a study, or placing the issue before voters in November, would send an inaccurate message that the city was displeased with the school district's management.

"I think the games being played are unfair and unjustified and I think we’ll create a disaster," he said. "Putting this on the ballot sends a message across the whole southwest of the (Salt Lake) valley that there's issues and there really isn’t. It comes down to a few people in South Jordan."

Current discussions of a school district split follow the exodus of several former Jordan School District municipalities in 2008 to form the Canyons School District.

In May, Jordan School District posted a pair of articles on its website detailing the increased costs faced by both Canyons and Jordan following the split and in June, Jordan's school board adopted a resolution formally opposed to further splintering of the district and warning of decreased educational services that could result from exiting cities.

West Jordan commissioned a feasibility study in 2007 during the lead up to the Canyons split and on Wednesday, council members suggested the 7-year-old study could still satisfy the requirements of Utah law should the city decide to bring the question of splitting from Jordan before voters.

The city's legal counsel was informally directed to verify whether the option of a ballot question remains open without a new study, but Councilman Ben Southworth cautioned against relying on information that pre-dates the economic recession.

"There’s so much that has changed," he said. "If we want to use that one, fine, but to me it’s the same kangaroo court-type action that we’re seeing come from South Jordan right now." he said.

City leaders from the various Jordan School District municipalities are scheduled to meet with school officials next week and the results of South Jordan's feasibility study are expected by late July or early August, ahead of the ballot deadline.

Anthony Godfrey, administrator of schools for the Jordan School District, also said the board's resolution opposing a split was delivered to each of the district's municipalities.

"We are eager to work with cities to resolve any concerns that they may see and we’re optimistic about working together in the future and continue to provide what we think is a great education for students in this area," Godfrey said.

Two members of the Jordan School Board were also present during Wednesday's City Council meeting as residents and both urged the council against commissioning a new study.

"I am here to encourage you against allocating this money," school board member Kayleen Whitelock said. "Splitting the district will not benefit those that I care about most — children. Opportunities for children will be dramatically reduced due to funding."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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