I don’t think it’s fair to the school district to leave (a split) over our heads," school board member Janice Voorhies said. "We need some kind of security. —Janice Voorhies, school board member
WEST JORDAN — City mayors and school board members in the Jordan School District attempted to deflate threats of a district split Monday by negotiating the terms of an agreement during more than three hours of often heated debate.
The memorandum of understanding requires the school district to provide city leaders with regular reports on its finances, facilities and construction plans, as well as work to include city leadership in future discussion of policy and personnel.
In return, school officials asked that they be given time to make good on the requests of city leaders and that animosity be left in the past.
"I don’t think it’s fair to the school district to leave (a split) over our heads," school board member Janice Voorhies said. "We need some kind of security."
The memorandum underwent several revisions during Monday's meeting, drawing expressions of frustration and disagreement from all sides. The document will now be reviewed and potentially signed by the school board and each of the district's mayors.
"They can change whatever they want, and any mayor can sign that (memorandum)," South Jordan City Councilman Chuck Newton said. "The real question is: How are the majority of the South Jordan City Council members going to view the changes, and what will they do in regards to it?"
Talk of a school district split began with members of the South Jordan City Council, which recently commissioned a study to explore the feasibility of creating an independent school district.
That decision prompted West Jordan to consider a split of its own, based on a feasibility study conducted in 2007 during the lead-up to the creation of Canyons School District.
The Jordan School Board has formally opposed a split of the district, warning that further division would lead to increased costs and decreased educational services for students.
But Newton said residents are facing likely tax increases by remaining in the Jordan School District, which has struggled to keep up with student growth and faces a loss of funding in the form of countywide equalization that resulted from the split with Canyons School District.
"The only way we can keep their property taxes down is to split off," Newton said. "The question for the taxpayers is: Do they want to be good neighbors and pay for everybody else?"
School board members were presented with an initial draft of the memorandum, which was then reviewed line by line during Monday's meeting.
Much of the more prescriptive language was removed from the document, including requirements that mayors be seated on the dais during school board meetings and that any adjustments to the district's five-year plan be subject to approval from city officials.
Other sections removed from the memorandum included language directing the school district to liquidate property not currently occupied by school buildings and to vacate its administrative office near Jordan Landing in favor of a building with less commercial value.
"I would like it noted that we are also an elected body, and we were elected to represent our constituents," school board member Kayleen Whitelock said. "Some of the verbiage in this is a little offensive to me, and you need to know that."
School board vice president Susan Pulsipher assured city and state leaders present at the meeting that the board was making an effort to change its procedures and attitudes and had taken steps to foster collaboration.
"This says, 'We don’t trust you. We’re judging you in the past,'" Pulsipher said, referring to the initial draft of the memorandum of understanding. "We can’t move into the future if you treat us like we’re in the past."
Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, also criticized city leaders during negotiations on the memorandum for levying demands against the school district with little or no concessions of their own.
"This is a one-way street," Bird said. "And you know what? Even after we’re done here, if you handed this to me and asked me to sign this, I’d tear it up and walk out of the room."
After the meeting, West Jordan Mayor Kim Rolfe said the discussions were a positive step toward reaching an agreement among the various district cities.
The West Jordan City Council has discussed the possibility of splitting from the district if South Jordan does, but Rolfe said the West Jordan City Council was in agreement that students are best served by a unified and complete district.
"I’m very optimistic that we are going to reach a consensus of the mayors and the Jordan School District Board," Rolfe said. "I believe that we’re addressing the issues. There was give and take on both sides, and I believe that’s the way it should be."
But Newton said that despite the district's promises to be more forthcoming and collaborative in the future, he and his colleagues on the South Jordan City Council have until Aug. 4 to decide whether to place the question of a split before voters.
He said district officials have agreed to provide reports on district property and finances before that deadline, but those reports have yet to be delivered.
"They have two weeks left," Newton said. "The clock is ticking."
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