Frankly, we cringe at the suggestion by some lawmakers and mayors on the west side of the Jordan School District that the splitting of that district should be put on hold until the Legislature can clarify details.
We're not cringing because we want the split to continue on its present downhill course toward arbitration or litigation. We cringe because the Legislature has yet to touch this issue without making the mess worse.
First it passed a law allowing areas as small as city boundaries to split off and form their own school districts, without providing any other details as to how that should be done. Then, last summer, as the east side of the Jordan District was heading toward a vote to split away and as west-siders also demanded a chance to vote, lawmakers met in a special session and did nothing.
That's not entirely accurate. They did vote to strip Salt Lake County of the power to stop the vote. Those east-side voters then went to the polls in November and approved the split.
Then during the 2008 regular session, the Legislature made a clumsy attempt to mitigate the enormous costs facing the leftover west side of the district. But rather than enacting a statewide education equalization plan, it approved a Salt Lake County-only equalization bill that puts large tax burdens on other districts within the county.
Why should anyone believe lawmakers will make the situation better this time?
Still, despite the well-deserved skepticism, everyone should agree that, as the west-side politicians have said, more time is needed. For several weeks now, transition teams on both the east and west sides of the district have met, separately and together, to split the assets fairly. If anything, they seem farther apart today than when they started. The east side wants to divide the dollar value of the assets equally, which would require the west side to pay more. The west side wants to divide the value based on the percentage of students in each side, which would favor the west side. Both sides have retained attorneys.
Interestingly, the Utah Foundation just released a report that, among other things, notes a "growing body of evidence" that smaller districts lead to better education, particularly for disadvantaged children. Rather than create small districts, the Jordan split would create two large ones. These, however, would be much smaller than the current Jordan District. That might be a step in the right direction, but more steps would be impossible unless lawmakers finally could work out separation formulas and a statewide equalization plan.