New school map gives Salt Lake City's west side a louder voice
A newly minted Salt Lake City School District map extends two central city district lines west of Interstate 15 eliminating the freeway's physical and cultural divide while providing west-siders an unprecedented shot at four school board seats.
Right now, west-siders hold just two of the seven school board posts despite 2010 census numbers showing that about half of the city's children live west of I-15.
"The map it's bold," said new District 2 Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, who campaigned last year on the need to boost west-end representation on the school board. "It crosses what I think is a psychological barrier between east and west. It is empowerment to our school board to be more responsive to the unique needs of our kids."
The map was hatched by an independent work group composed of resident volunteers. Passed unanimously this week after some tweaking by the City Council, it slightly shrinks Districts 1 and 2 but stretches the boundaries of Districts 4 and 5 well west of I-15.
Now, instead of five east-side districts, the lines are more balanced coupling sections of Glendale and Poplar Grove with central city and some of the east bench.
"All of the board members have looked at it, and they do agree with it," said school district spokesman Jason Olsen, reiterating the goal was to widen west-end influence. "By extending 4 and 5 over to the west side, it seems like it accomplishes that as much as we can."
The filing period for school board candidates runs March 9-15. Districts 1, 2, 5 and 7 are up this year, meaning both west-side seats and one of the new hybrid districts are in play.
A group of mostly Latino west-end parents, surrounded by children bused to City Hall from Glendale, pleaded with the council during this week's public hearing to balance the scale.
"We still have kids all the same," said Nancy Flanders. "We have different backgrounds, different language. But we still have one purpose: to learn and to be better to be proud of who we are."
Elizabeth Montoya noted some west-side schools are overcrowded and echoing with two dozen languages. "I want equal opportunity," she said, "for our kids and our children to succeed in life."
And Haytham Ibrahim criticized the school board's lopsided membership as unreasonable. "It would be a great idea if we had more fairness."
Councilman Carlton Christensen said the city's constitutional challenge lies in the fact that the majority of its adult population still lives east of the freeway. The map, he said, is a "good-faith resemblance" to reduce the barriers "to the extent we can."
Collectively, the volunteer work group, school board and politicians agreed the redistricting process remained professional and apolitical.
"It's a perfect example," explained new Councilman Charlie Luke, "that an independent commission really can make a difference when it comes to redistricting."
Councilman Stan Penfold took the sentiment a step further.
"What a stark contrast," he said, "to what we saw happen at the state level."
Up next: City Council redistricting map
Based on the 2010 census, Salt Lake City must approve a new council district map that divides population equally. An independent work group has made its recommendation on the map tweaked by the council. It is up for final approval in March.