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

Published: Sunday, July 20 2014 9:16 a.m. MDT

"They’ve been just kind of AWOL on the issues," he said. "I would state definitively that those comments are coming from not a lack of concern but a lack of knowledge and understanding because they haven’t been involved in the issues and haven’t been close to it. They just see it as a split/don’t split (question), and they don’t understand the underlying economics of what’s happening."

Splitting the baby

With or without a split, Alvord said he intends to fight against any future attempts to limit a city's ability to create a new school district. An inability to separate could lead to abuses by school leaders, the South Jordan mayor said.

"I think it makes sure the proper attention is given to each member city of a district, knowing that any of them could walk away if they’re not taken care of," he said.

Alvord reiterated that if South Jordan were to split, it would be due to the wishes of the city's voters and not the whims of a few individuals in leadership. The City Council can place the question on the ballot — and the deadline to do so is Aug. 5 — but he said a split would require "the votes of thousands."

Alvord also said the discussions that have resulted from the threat of a split are already yielding positive results. He said he has noticed a more attentive school board throughout negotiations, and he believes this to be the beginning of a better relationship between educators and municipalities.

"It’s not comfortable for a district to endure cities threatening to leave, but in some ways it’s healthy. It’s democratic. It’s politics," Alvord said. "It’s kind of how things get done to make sure that cities are paid attention to and that we don’t have bullies at the district."

Newton also said he's optimistic about the future based on the current negotiations. The Jordan School Board has agreed to provide reports on its finances and property holdings, and to make a greater effort to include mayors in future planning.

"The efforts that South Jordan has made has taken the school district further than it ever wanted to go in the past, and we appreciate their responding to us in a positive manner," the city councilman said.

But Newton added that the preliminary findings from the city's feasibility study suggest South Jordan could benefit from independence, with its current property revenues able to meet the city's immediate school construction needs and potentially allow for a decrease in taxes.

As for how he would vote on the question of a district split, Newton said he has not yet made a decision and would need to study the issue further.

"There’s a lot of people out there that have been assuming all along that I’m for the split because I’ve talked about the need to take a look at the split and pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed to deal with this issue," he said. "My call for the split was really to get it onto the ballot to let the residents decide and to raise the issues to see if we could get somewhere."

Pulsipher said the school district intends to deliver on the requests made by the district's mayors. But she expressed a hope that the issue would be resolved without being placed on a ballot, which would launch campaigns for and against the split and could undo the progress made by school officials and city leaders.

"Anytime you have an item go on a ballot, you’re going to have campaigning on both sides, and you have feelings expressed and aired on both sides," Pulsipher said, "and that can be good, but it also could cause contention. We’re trying to create an environment of collaboration, and putting an item on the ballot would probably not work toward collaboration. It would work against it."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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