Crowded Jordan District asks: More taxes? More portables? School after 7 p.m.?
Residents lean toward $540M bond over cost cuts after study predicts need for more schools.
Published: June 26, 2013 01:56PM
Updated: June 27, 2013 10:55AM
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Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Butterfield Canyon Elementary students head back to their classrooms after recess. The school is overflowing with its 1,300 students, judging from the more than a dozen portable classrooms placed around the school property. Jordan School District officials are floating a tax hike to raise cash for new school buildings.

Students at Jordan District schools already spill over into more than 250 mobile classrooms. And the district will soon need far more space, a new study predicts.

Enrollment in the district has swelled about 60 percent in a little over a dozen years, according to the study from real estate consulting group CBRE.

District officials are floating a tax hike to raise cash for new school buildings. The proposal is one of several ideas put forward to make room for an anticipated flood of students.

“It’s a boom town,” said Jordan School District spokesman Steven Dunham, “so we’re trying to cope with that and make sure we manage it wisely for the coming decade.”

But some parents say the proposal and uneven district growth could mean long bus rides and tough going for students in sparser areas.

District homeowners favor a $540 million five-year payment plan to cover the cost of building more schools, an initial survey conducted by the district shows. More than half of respondents said district schools with low enrollment should close.

Earlier this summer, officials sent about 72,000 surveys to district homeowners. About 7,900, or nearly 11 percent, were sent back in.

On Tuesday night, district officials and about a hundred community members went over the prognosis in the Riverton High School auditorium. Homeowners might get to vote as soon as November on whether to shoulder higher taxes or take a cost-cutting route.

That could mean such measures as splitting the school day in two, with half of the students at a school from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. or so, and the other half coming in after 1 p.m. and staying after 7 p.m. It could mean busing students past their neighborhood schools to district classrooms with fewer students. It could also mean eliminating magnet programs that pull students from neighborhood schools, such as the advanced learning track for gifted students,special education cluster programs and preschool.

The district takes on about two elementary schools worth of new students every year — more than 2,000 children, Dunham said. And it will double in size during the next two generations, according to the CBRE forecast.

School buildings in bustling Herriman are bursting at the seams, Dunham said. But others in West Jordan count more than a few empty desks.

If voters OK the five-year bond plan, “it simply provides seats for the students that come to us” in the next few years, said Superintendent Patrice Johnson. Other options for a tax hike include either a three-year or ten-year package.

If adopted, the five-year bond would hike taxes by $7 per month for each $100,000 home, Dunham said.

In 2012, South Jordan was one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., within its size class. Officials credit a new crop of homes in burgeoning Daybreak for spurring the uptick, Dunham said.

The district covers the southern portion of Salt Lake County, where former farmland is fast developing, said Scott Thomas, the district administrator for support services. “We’re really the last holdout. There’s nowhere else to build,” he said.

For every 1,000 front doors that go up in the district, about 800 new students make their way through Jordan school corridors, district figures show.

Two new district schools are in the works: Copper Mountain Middle School is set to open in fall, and Herriman Elementary is slated to welcome students the following August.

Mariette Barton of Riverton questioned on Tuesday night what would happen if projected growth didn’t pan out. For district schools where student enrollment is already dropping off, she said, that could mean closed doors and complicated workdays for families.

Some at the meeting warned that more homes don’t necessarily mean more students. South Jordan City Council member Chuck Newton said the district is growing in popularity as a retirement destination.

If homeowners vote down a tax hike, Aubrie Johnson’s three children will likely ride from their Herriman home to school in West Jordan each day, she said.

That possibility, she said, makes her decision easy. “I’m gonna say, ‘let’s bond,’” she said. “I’m a complete beneficiary of the bond.

“If I was in West Jordan, if I was in Kearns, I’d be concerned,” she added. “They’re going to be paying all this money and I get the great new school.”

Email: aknox@sltrib.com

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Jordan School District patrons speak out

A recent survey by the Jordan School District found:

About four out of five respondents approve raising taxes for a bonding plan to raise for money for swelling enrollment. Twenty percent gave a flat-out “no.”

For school buildings, patrons feel safety is most important, followed by cost effectiveness. Technology and looks came in last.

For cost-cutting measures, 80 percent of respondents said they approved of using mobile classrooms. Three quarters OK’d the current year-round schedule. Least popular: busing students to schools in other areas and splitting the school day in two.