As ballots arrive on people’s doorsteps, residents along the Wasatch front are preparing to cast votes in upcoming elections. In addition to political contests, voters will consider the Granite School District bond proposal and the Canyons School district bond proposal, both of which attempt to address aging school building infrastructure and safety issues across their districts.
We offer five criteria through which these and similar school funding projects and initiatives should be scrutinized:
1) Has the district proven a need for the money?
2) Does the district explain exactly what the money will do?
3) Will the money help improve education outcomes?
4) Will the initiative increase the local tax burden, and is the increase commensurate with the district’s needs?
5) Has the district’s analysis been fact-checked, preferably by an independent source?
We won’t dictate how to vote on these initiatives. But, as a matter of principle, if residents feel that these queries aren’t adequately answered, they should think twice before voting yes.
Of course, that’s not to say the districts in these cases can’t answer the questions, and on recent visits to the joint Deseret News and KSL editorial boards, both the Granite and Canyons leadership outlined their cases for why their initiatives should prevail.
The Granite bond would raise taxes about $200 annually for the average household. The Canyons bond, on the other hand, is tax-rate-neutral, meaning that the tax-rate for residents will stay the same with the new bond phasing in as the district’s previous 2010 bond obligation phases out.
The Granite School District, which sweeps from Salt Lake City’s east bench to the Great Salt Lake, abuts the Canyon’s District along the I-215 corridor, which extends as far south as the Point of the Mountain.
With regard to Granite, the additional funds would give the district $170 million to start renovating or rebuilding aging schools, 44 of which are more than a half-century old, including one or two that date back to the Great Depression.
The Canyons bond would also rebuild and renovate a number of schools, one of which was built in 1957 and four of which opened in the 1960s. Money is also set aside to provide funds for adding, among other projects, a new elementary school where new housing developments are thought to be coming in as the old prison site moves to Salt Lake’s Northwest Quadrant.
There is also the need for buildings that can accommodate changing educational technologies. The question is whether plans and funding mechanisms are appropriate for what needs to be done. The districts point out that, with each passing year, the cost of deferred projects continues to rise.
Some feel that it’s never the right time to raise taxes or extend taxes that might otherwise phase out. But the districts contend that when buildings age, they also become financial liabilities not only in terms of repairs, energy inefficiency and technological obsolescence, but also safety, especially in relation to a potential seismic event.
Polling data suggests that residents in the Granite district are open to the initiative, according to data from a district-commissioned Y2 Analytics poll. Meanwhile, polling by Dan Jones and Associates, commissioned by the Canyons district, says 87 percent of residents approve of the Canyon district’s use of bond funds after its 2010 bond.
Whether it’s a tax increase or a tax-neutral bond initiative, we urge the public to dig into the details of these proposals and evaluate the emerging measures based on a proven need for money, the specific use for the funds, whether a tax increase would be commensurate with the need and whether there will be a verified impact on educational outcomes.