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Deseret News

Voters reject $495M Jordan School District bond

By Benjamin Wood | Posted - Nov. 5, 2013 at 11:47 p.m.

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WEST JORDAN — Voters in Jordan School District struck down a nearly half-billion-dollar bond proposal Tuesday, rejecting the measure by a margin of more than 30 points.

The bond failed by a vote of roughly 67 percent to 32 percent, according to Salt Lake County elections officials. Those results reversed a public opinion survey conducted by the district that showed strong support for the bond and that school board members frequently referred to in deliberations of the bond proposal.

"I think it will affect some of the opportunities for our students, but we will move forward and we will make do with what we have," Jordan School Board President Richard Osborn said of the bond's failure. "We just don’t think it will be enough."

Smaller bond proposals in Duchesne and Washington counties were approved by voters.

As of press time, bond elections for Cache County School District and Logan City School District were too close to call. Cache County's proposal was failing with only 46 percent of the vote and roughly 75 percent of precincts reporting, according to school district officials. Logan's proposal was succeeding with roughly 56 percent of the vote.

Jordan District's $495 million bond proposal was one of the largest in Utah history and would have cost the average homeowner in the district an additional $240 in annual property taxes over five years.

Plans for the bond money included replacing West Jordan Elementary and West Jordan Middle schools, the construction of 11 new schools and renovations at several existing schools.

District officials prepared the bond in response to a rapidly growing student population, which sees enrollment swell by the equivalent of two elementary schools each year.

In June, residents were asked to participate in a survey measuring their support for a bond in contrast to other enrollment-related alternatives, such as year-round schedules, boundary changes and long-distance busing.

Roughly 11 percent of residents participated in the survey, according to district officials, with a large majority of respondents indicating their support of a bond for new buildings.

But that support did not carry through to Tuesday's municipal elections, and many voters exiting the ballot boxes at the West Jordan Library expressed opposition to the bond.

"I don’t want the highest property taxes in the state. That’s ridiculous," Shaun Robison said after casting his vote.

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Robison said that in his conversations with residents, most people would have supported a smaller bond but not one for nearly a half-billion dollars. He said that while there are some aging facilities in the district, many schools are in good shape.

"They already have plenty of buildings," Robison said. "I don't think that they need it."

Reena Robb also opposed the bond, primarily due to the high cost to taxpayers.

"It's just too much right now," she said. "Times are hard, and people can't afford it right now."

Other voters said they were supportive of the bond as both a way to address the growing student body in the district and to bring much-needed renovations to older buildings.

Shawn Crabb said he felt "torn" but ultimately voted in support of the bond. He said the list of projects the bond would fund are worthwhile, but the district could also work to eliminate instances of waste and practice more fiscal responsibility.

"It feels a little excessive," Crabb said of the bond's $495 million price tag. "I voted for it just because I feel like it's important to fund it."

JoAnne Hicks said it was the needs of her grandchildren that motivated her to vote in favor of the bond. She said the cost of the bond to taxpayers was certainly signficant, but ultimately it was a price she was willing to pay to improve education in the district.

It feels a little excessive. I voted for it just because I feel like it's important to fund it.

–Shawn Crabb, voter

"We have grandkids at West Jordan Middle, and we want a decent school," Hicks said. "Our kids are grown, but we still have grandkids we want to be educated."

Osborn said the bond's failure means that, at least for the time being, Jordan School District's classrooms will continue to struggle with overcrowding. He said the board will have to discuss what the next steps for the district will be, but he did not anticipate the district coming forward with a smaller bond proposal next year.

"I can't see it coming up again in the near future," he said. "I thought this would pass, so I could be wrong. I'm just sorry to see that it went the way it did."

In the Washington County School District, a $185 million bond for construction and remodeling projects was approved by voters. Washington County reported that vote totals stood at 54 percent in favor of the bond and 45 percent opposed.

Cache County School District proposed the $129 million bond for two new high schools and renovations to several older buildings. The bond would add a $165 annual tax to the average home, which is valued at $197,000, according to school district officials.

The district previously considered building a single new high school, but plans were changed to accommodate the north-south split caused by neighboring Logan School District after parents expressed concerns about long-distance busing.

In the Duchesne County School District, voters approved a $29 million bond for construction and remodeling by a margin of 67 percent to 33 percent, according to the Dee Miles, the district's business administrator. The bond election was conducted entirely by mail-in ballot, and Miles said some additional votes will likely arrive before final results are tallied.

"With that much of a spread, it shouldn’t change the results," he said.


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