East- and west-side leaders squared off Tuesday in dueling press conferences to announce the failure of Jordan School District transition negotiations as well as a resolve to ask the governor for a special session to delay the divorce of the two sides.
The east-side leaders declared an impasse in negotiations and a move to arbitration, while the west-side leaders argued the process needs more time to be successful since the transition teams have been unable to settle on an agreement.
"We concluded we are going backwards," said Steve Newton, chairman of the Jordan-east transition team, who was joined by four east-side mayors. "There is no attempt here to come to a deal, there is too much animosity, bitterness or whatever going on to be able to make this happen."
Eleven west-side legislators and city leaders crowded around a microphone at a press conference a few hours later to say that, rather than let the east- and west-side transition teams waste money on arbitration, the Legislature should be allowed to resolve the situation amicably.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan; Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville; Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman; and Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, were among a long list of political and business leaders who signed a resolution asking Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to call a special legislative session to delay the Jordan District division. The group plans to present the resolution to the governor in the next few days.
"We are of the opinion that this is an issue that is so vital to the state of Utah that it needs to be solved amicably by the citizens and the parents who are concerned with the outcome, and not by arbitrators who say we can go (divide the Jordan School District's assets) 50/50 or 60/40," Waddoups said. "We need to do the right thing for the right reason."
Both sides have accused the opposing side of letting the process of dividing the Jordan District's assets shift to being more about money than the needs of students. The transition teams have debated scenarios for dividing the assets for the past few months but have been unable to compromise.
"I think we need to step back and consider the kids," South Jordan Mayor Kent Money said. "That's what this resolution is asking for. It's merely saying our kids are more important than an established date out there and we need to further look at this and come up with an agreeable solution. We're not against the split. The split is probably going to happen ... but let's make sure it happens in the right way."
The transition teams were charged with crafting a proposal to divide the district's assets and liabilities after east-siders voted to secede from Jordan School District last year.
But the two teams have batted different proposals around throughout the past few months. Recently both sides have retained legal counsel in order to prepare for impending arbitration.
However, leaders on the Jordan-west transition team said they have yet to receive indication, aside from press reports, that an impasse has been reached.
The main issue is how to divide the district's assets, and a negotiating team made up of two members of each team drafted a proposal earlier this spring. The Jordan-west team rejected it, so the negotiating team went back to the drawing board, producing another proposal that was signed off on by Jordan-east.
But the Jordan-west team responded with a counter-proposal that led to the impasse.
East-side leaders wanted all of the district's buildings to be appraised and the monetary value of all of the buildings divided equally between both sides. That approach would likely result in the west side paying the east side money to even the score.
The west-side transition team wants to take a different approach, splitting the value of the common buildings currently used by both sides of the district and dividing the value according to the percentage of students each side has. That could be about 60/40, as the west side has more students.
Legislation that clarified the division process was passed in March, but Waddoups said the Legislature didn't anticipate the impact that the upcoming school board election or the number of east-side buildings that need renovating compared to the number of west-side buildings that need to be built would have on the division process.
The Legislature should have a chance to re-evaluate its legislation in light of the "new information" that has been created, Waddoups said, especially as the issue becomes even more divisive and politically charged.