The Senate hashed out a bill Tuesday that details how school districts would be split.

Senators gave preliminary approval of the bill, but not until they also approved several amendments that allow more time for a new school district to be studied. Now in the bill:

• Voters must wait until the 2008 election to vote on a new district

• The Government Operations Interim Committee will further study whether: all voters in the existing district should vote on the split, a feasibility study should be required for each district affected, school building equalization for the districts needs to be addressed, and whether any existing district should be required to split again once it reaches a certain size.

Sponsoring Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, said the bill has been driven by parents and constituents of local municipalities, many of whom are tired of having their voice lost in some of the state's largest school districts. Walker's bill provides the tools for cities to form smaller school districts, which is allowed under a year-old state law.

"This bill is cities taking the initiative," Walker said. "I believe that that is a discussion that needs to take place because I believe our school districts are out of control; we have some of the biggest school districts in the nation."

Already, South Salt Lake, Holladay and Salt Lake County have entered into a feasibility-study agreement to examine the impact of a new district. Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Sandy, Alta, Midvale and Salt Lake County have also approved their own study. Those cities are in Granite and Jordan school districts.

With a declining student population, nearly all of Salt Lake County's east-side cities have voiced concerns with carrying the tax burden for a booming west side. Over 53 percent of tax money to build new schools comes from the east side, but the majority of new schools are being built on the west side.

But Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, took issue with a new district causing a taxing increase for west-siders. According to charts presented to senators, if the east-side end of Jordan School District split from the west-side, the tax burden on the west-side would double.

"I really do believe we need to give this time," Stephenson said. "We need to do it in a way that does not give disproportionate tax burdens."

Stephenson proposed the amendment to allow the Education Interim Committee study a handful of issues he says eliminates a "cut and run mentality" and allows a district split to happen in a fair way. His amendment, tweaked to allow the Government Operations Interim Committee discuss those concerns, passed on a 24-4 vote.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, was concerned with the bill allowing constituents to vote on the matter in the 2007 election, when no other big items would be on the ballot and voter turnout is historically low. Buttars' amendment passed by one vote, Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, being the deciding vote.


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