Most Utahns, apparently, understand fairness, and the lack thereof, when they see it.

A Dan Jones & Associates poll, conducted for the Deseret News/KSL-TV, found that 72 percent of Utahns believe it was unfair to allow only the east side of the Jordan School District to vote on whether to split the district in two.

East-side residents had proposed forming their own district out of a belief that the current district was unresponsive to their needs. But the split, which the east side approved last November, affects the remaining west side, as well. Transition teams from both sides are at an apparent impasse right now, which may lead to arbitration.

Supporters of the split, including lawmakers who passed the law making it possible, argue that the process is correct because it mirrors the way all other new political entities are formed. If, for instance, residents of an unincorporated area wish to form their own city, an election is held among those residents only. The rest of the unincorporated area would be affected by the incorporation, due to a loss of tax base, but those people don't get to vote. Were it any other way, no new cities ever would be formed.

It's a persuasive argument, except that the situations aren't analogous. The truth is, the splitting of a school district is unique in Utah. It is the equivalent of allowing a part of an incorporated city to break off into its own city.

That doesn't mean such a split never should happen, nor does it mean that allowing all residents of the Jordan District to vote would have made a split politically impossible. People tend to vote in their own financial interests. If the neighborhoods forming their own district could broker a deal that makes the split fair and equitable, chances are a district-wide vote would succeed.

That is the process currently under way between the transition teams. But it is taking place after the vote, which means the sides have little incentive for cooperation.

Other school districts, especially Alpine and Davis, are watching the process carefully. They have their own breakaway movements with which to contend. The two sides of Jordan may end up with arbitrators settling their issues. Our hope is the Legislature will revisit the issue of school district splits, take lessons from what happened and rewrite the process so that fairness comes first.