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Bond failure shows Jordan needs better plan for growth

Published November 7, 2013 1:31 pm

District needs still must be met
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The electoral thumping voters gave a half-billion-dollar Jordan School District bond proposal Tuesday could be explained in a number of ways: the lingering effects of the worst recession in decades, a lack of trust in school officials to spend as little of the bond money as possible, the overwhelming size of the bond.

What the resounding defeat — 70 percent were opposed — most likely does not indicate is a lack of commitment to public education.

That's why district officials should not, and cannot, give up on meeting the very real need for more classroom space. But the ongoing effort clearly can't again take the form of a $495 million bond request.

Districts such as Jordan, where 29,000 additional students are expected in the next decade, have only a few options for more efficiently utilizing existing space. Jordan should fully investigate all of them and include the public in the process.

Back at the drawing board, district officials have to craft a plan for fewer and less-expensive buildings while also embracing an expansion of year-round schedules at more elementary schools and — although this is trickier — at middle and high schools as well. They also may have to bus children from overcrowded neighborhood schools close to their homes to less crowded schools elsewhere.

If they can show district patrons that these measures are necessary and put them into place to reduce the need for eight new schools, as the bond would have financed, then propose a scaled-down bond, they have a better chance of success.

At the same time, school officials, not only in the Jordan district but in other fast-growing areas, should work with other education supporters and the public to lobby for a reasonable impact fee on new construction, with the money going specifically to build new schools.

Conservative Utah legislators, especially those connected to real estate sales and development — and there are many — are likely to oppose such fees. But others who like the idea of user fees rather than tax increases might be persuaded to vote for such a measure. The fees also reduce tax increases on longtime residents with fixed incomes.

Impact fees on new homes and businesses are a fair way to require those families with children who are overfilling existing classrooms to pay for school expansion. Of course not all new homes are inhabited by people with children, but everyone in a community, including its businesses, receive benefits from good schools and well-educated people.

Those benefits don't come cheap. If the Legislature continues to underfund education, it must allow districts to get the money elsewhere.