Why Alpine School District’s proposed two-way split was blocked by the Utah Legislature

During a special session, lawmakers said a proposal by Utah’s largest school district will remain off November’s ballot, while two interlocal split agreements may still advance if passed by voters.

A proposal by the Alpine School District to split into two separate districts was on its way to ballots this November — until Utah lawmakers blocked it.

In a special legislative session on Wednesday, lawmakers passed HB3003, titled “School District Amendments,” which prevents local school boards from initiating a process to divide a district. The rule change applies retroactively, effectively blocking Alpines’s board from splitting the district this year.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, said the legislation was necessary because there are also two interlocal proposals to split the district on November’s ballot. Alpine school board’s proposed split would have conflicted with the interlocal ballot measures, which will remain in voters’ hands this fall.

“That creates a couple of issues,” Brammer said during an education interim committee meeting that took place immediately before the special session. “A messy ballot and messy results.”

The difference between an interlocal split and a district split is that, for interlocal splits, only voters from the cities involved in the agreement vote on the split. A district split proposal would include voters from all cities within a school district.

One concern was the possibility that voters might approve all three split proposals. If that happened, Utah lacks a process to determine which would win out.

“It was never intended that there be multiple splits put on the ballot at the same time,” Brammer said. “If there are multiple measures on the ballot and they all pass, what happens? Nobody knows. That’s the problem that this bill is intended to solve.”

Lawmakers called the bill a “temporary” fix and said they would likely restore districts’ ability to initiate splits once a “prioritization system” is established in next year’s general session.

Alpine board members divided on the matter

Splitting the Alpine School District has been a looming possibility for decades due to its rapid population growth — the district covers nearly half of Utah County, encompassing 13 municipalities and 92 schools. But it wasn’t until last year that district leaders took formal steps to set it in motion.

Since February, the district has been narrowing down six potential redistricting options suggested by MGT, a Florida-based consulting firm hired to conduct a reconfiguration study.

In early May, Alpine board members initially advanced two of those options for certification with the Utah County Clerk, a step required to get a proposal before voters.

But two weeks later both were rejected because districts, at that time, could only submit one proposal for certification. The board opted to resubmit a proposal that involved dividing Alpine into two separate districts — one to the east, and one to the west.

“The Alpine School District board has been working for two years to get this initiative to the ballot and we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars,” board member Ada Wilson told lawmakers Wednesday, speaking against the bill. “My concern is that the option that gets the most dollars to the classroom is not on the ballot.”

But Wilson’s colleague, board Vice President Julie King, said she supported the measure.

“I’m in full support of HB3003,” King said. “There’s a gap in code about how to deal with those competing initiatives. … Without that clarity, we will likely end up in a legal battle with our 10 municipalities who have agreed to enter interlocal agreements.”

The two interlocal agreements include one with Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain, Fairfield and Cedar Fort and another with Lehi, Draper, Highland, Alpine, Cedar Hills and American Fork.

Orem, Vineyard, Lindon and Pleasant Grove have not entered into an agreement and have until the end of the month to form an interlocal agreement for residents to vote on in November. If they do not, and the two other interlocal agreements pass, the four cities will become a reorganized district by default.

There have been several previous interlocal attempts to split the Alpine School District, but only one ever made it onto a ballot. The 2022 proposal would have created a new school district in Orem, which the Orem City Council first pitched in August of that year.

Proponents of the Orem split argued that the Alpine School District was unable to meet Orem students’ needs because of its large size. It ultimately failed, with 73% of voters rejecting it.

Orem residents had previously attempted to split from Alpine in 2006. That year, they filed a petition to the Orem City Council requesting a split, but after a feasibility study, the council voted against it.

Other proposals to split the district have been blocked by the Utah County Commission. In 2004, commissioners declined to add a potential new school district for Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain to the ballot after a feasibility study didn’t recommend it.