The South Jordan City Council on Wednesday joined with the Jordan School Board and neighboring cities in accepting an agreement designed to stave off a district split.
I think the answer is very clear from this study that what’s best for our students is to maintain the Jordan School District and to maintain good communication. —Councilman Don Shelton

SOUTH JORDAN — A capacity crowd arrived at the South Jordan Community Center Wednesday night prepared for two hours of public debate on the topic of a potential school district split.

But much of the pressure was deflated from the room before the first resident stood at the podium to speak.

One by one, members of the South Jordan City Council expressed their support for joining an agreement reached by the Jordan School Board and neighboring cities in lieu of placing the creation of a new school district on November's ballot.

"I promised the (school) board, gave them my word of honor, that if they signed the interlocal agreement, they wouldn’t see it on the ballot," Councilman Chuck Newton said. "I am honoring that word tonight."

Immediately prior to Wednesday's public forum, South Jordan's mayor and City Council met in a work session, during which they were presented with the draft results of a study commissioned to examine the feasibility of creating a new school district.

Fred Philpot, a senior analyst with Lewis, Young, Robertson & Burningham, said the study suggested a district split was feasible for the city but would likely result in South Jordan residents facing a higher tax burden than if they remained in the Jordan School District, while seeing a decline in per-pupil revenues as a result of local, state and federal funding formulas.

Philpot said a new city district would face a funding deficit at its inception, due to the costs of replicating administrative staff and facilities, as well as special education services and programs that could take years to develop.

"All of those duplicate costs disproportionately affect the new district," he said.

The new district would also face housing issues at the middle school and high school levels, Philpot said, as hundreds of South Jordan children currently attend schools located outside the city's municipal boundaries.

"Bingham High would not have sufficient capacity to handle both the 585 students from Bingham High and forecasted growth," he said.

Before moving across the street to the public forum, Mayor Dave Alvord suggested that the City Council begin the meeting by discussing their support for the interlocal agreement rather than focusing on study results that would only be applicable if the city were to pursue a split.

"We’ve reached an agreement with the district. We have a weaker feasibility study than we expected. Do we really need to go through the numbers in a large public setting?" Alvord said. "Are we measuring drapes for a home we’re not going to be buying?"

Several council members expressed that while the split would likely not appear on the ballot, the process of investigating a split had brought meaningful issues to light and paved the way for greater collaboration in the future.

Councilman Don Shelton said he initially opposed commissioning the feasibility study but now believes it was money well spent and led to meaningful cooperation between the various elected city and education leaders.

"I think the answer is very clear from this study that what’s best for our students is to maintain the Jordan School District and to maintain good communication," Shelton said.

While the issue appeared to be settled, many residents stayed to voice their opinions both for and against a potential district split.

Steve Hodnett said he would still like to see residents have a chance to vote on the issue.

Hodnett said the district is financially mismanaged, noting that several district employees command six-figure salaries. He also said he found it disheartening that the study suggests residents will face steep tax increases independent of whether there is one district or two.

"It’s alarming to see those numbers," Hodnett said. "It feels like the bully is coming for my lunch money with the district."

Sharon Jensen, principal of Valley High School, an alternative high school in South Jordan, thanked the council for considering other options and not rushing into the creation of a new district.

"I’m here as a parent to again ask you to keep in mind the bottom line of anything is the education of the students," Jensen said. "We don’t want to reduce opportunities for students."

The council ultimately voted unanimously to accept the interlocal agreement.

Next week's City Council agenda includes a potential vote on placing a district split on the ballot, but council members suggested that agenda item would be removed once confirmation is received that the school board and neighboring cities have similarly accepted the agreement.

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