South Jordan councilman wants school district split on ballot, no matter what mayors say

Published: Sunday, July 20 2014 9:05 a.m. MDT

West Jordan City Councilman Jeff Stoker said some of the demands presented to the district by municipal leaders are "over the top" and "overreaching," particularly considering that local school boards answer to their constituents and report to the State School Board, not cities.

"I don’t know if (South Jordan city leaders) are just trying to get some concessions out of the school district or if they’re looking to follow through with splitting, but they’ve managed to get all the other mayors involved in this," Stoker said.

Some of the concerns are valid, he said, particularly a need for greater communication to avoid school property being purchased in prime commercial development areas.

But others, like the now-softened suggestions that mayors be seated on the dais during school board meetings and be included in district personnel decisions, go too far, he said.

"I think those are straight out of line," Stoker said. "I don’t think, whether you’re a mayor or city council member or anything, you don’t have the right to go into another organization and demand personnel changes. That’s just bad form."

Stoker said he hopes the discussions will prompt positive change in the future, and he doesn't anticipate a split gaining traction among voters in either city.

But he also said the politics of the split have begun to interfere with the district's ability to focus on the needs of children, and he worries about the effect a district division could have on more expensive education programs, such as special education.

"I’m trying to make sure that whether it’s this child or that child, that they’re going to get the attention they need," Stoker said, "that they’re going to get the education they need without having some council meeting ruin that for them."

Members of the school board have also suggested that the ongoing tumult has interfered with their ability to address academic issues.

Pulsipher said the negotiations, meetings and discussions with city leaders have definitely taken up time that could have been spent on other matters, but she sees those conversations as necessary to Jordan's future.

"I guess the issue is: Was it necessary? And I think it was necessary," she said. "I feel like a collaborative process with all our community, including the cities and the business area community, will enhance the education of our children and in the end will save taxpayer dollars."

South Jordan City Councilman Mark Seethaler said the recent meeting between the district's mayors is evidence that the concerns are not just held by one or two "loose cannons" in South Jordan.

"It’s not just Chuck Newton’s problems. It’s not just personality issues or a spitting contest," Seethaler said. "It’s legitimate issues that five mayors and their respective organizations have agreed to execute on with respect to needs that we have as cities to be full partners with the school district."

Council members in other cities vary in their perspectives and experience with the district, he said, but the accusation that South Jordan is gaming or pressuring its neighbors ignores the real financial, property and communication issues that need to be resolved.

"I’m not interested in a pound of flesh," Seethaler said. "I’m not interested in identifying or labeling who is right, who is wrong, etc. I really want to see all of the cities come together with the school district and make some advances to re-establish relationships."

Newton said there are some council members in neighboring cities who are simply "clueless" to what's going on in the district.

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