Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
OREM — After many years of exploring the option, Orem residents on Tuesday got the long-awaited chance to vote on splitting from the Alpine School District.
Preliminary election results released Tuesday night indicate that Orem Proposition 2 may not pass.
As of Tuesday night, 72.78% of voters whose ballots had been tallied voted against Orem splitting from Alpine School District, while 27.22% of voters voted to split from the district and form an Orem-only school district.
The debate on whether or not Orem should split from Alpine School District was a heated one.
The pro-split crowd argued that the city of Orem pays more money to the Alpine School District than it gets back and that the district — the largest in the state — is too big to provide an adequate education to each individual student.
"Since the last time this was considered ... Orem taxpayers have paid millions in taxes and seen pennies in return," Orem resident Evan Cox said during an Orem City Council meeting. "The purpose of the study was to determine if it was financially feasible. The answer is a resounding yes."
Others who spoke against putting the issue on the ballot argued that the feasibility study is misleading and doesn't tell the whole story.
"By putting this on the ballot, you tell us that you approve of spending even more money on a plan that didn't even measure resident interest first," Cissy Rasmussen said at an Orem City Council meeting. "You spent $30,000 for a company that never conducted a feasibility study before, approved $50,000 for a PR firm, and at least $120,000 for an appointed attorney whose main job has been to work on this."
Orem City Council members were also conflicted on the issue, and the council was nowhere near a consensus when it voted 4-3 in August to put the issue on November's ballot.
Councilwoman LaNae Millett spoke in favor of Orem forming its own school district.
"I know that Alpine is doing the best that it can with what it has," Millett said. "Unfortunately, our Orem kids are being negatively affected because of the growth pressures that Alpine is feeling from the west side."
She added, "I am convinced an Orem district will allow our children to have the educational opportunities and the funding that they deserve."
Conversely, Councilman Tom Macdonald referred to tax increases that could occur if Orem decides to create its own school district.
"As I stated previously, I would not vote for a split if it raises taxes — and this will," he said.
Additionally, preliminary results from Utah County voters on Tuesday indicate that a $595 million bond that would go toward building new schools and repairing existing ones in Alpine School District may not pass.
As of Tuesday night, 53.16% of voters have voted against the bond while 46.84% have voted for it.
Alpine School District has grown exponentially in recent years, with significant growth in Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, Lehi and Vineyard, according to the district's website.
This growth has presented challenges that needed to be addressed, which were delayed due to the pandemic.
"We are really delayed in getting these schools built," Stephenson said. "In fact, we were going to do a bond in 2020. But, following serving our public and the pandemic, it was decided to hold off. So we're really a couple of years behind when we normally would have bonded for all of this growth anyway."
Along with creating more space and new schools, the bond would go toward increased safety measures like cameras, door locks and seismic protections.
The Utah Taxpayers Association said in a statement that the idea that the bond will not increase the tax rate "can be misleading to voters.
"The correct explanation of the proposal is: that without the issuance of this new debt, taxes would be lowered in upcoming years. If this debt is issued according to the plan, the overall tax burden on district taxpayers should remain approximately the same as now going forward," the release said.
Therefore, they elected to take a neutral position on the bond.
"Ultimately, when we have that many new students coming into our buildings, and we have older buildings that need to be rebuilt because of seismic concerns, we need to bond for the funds to address those issues," Stephenson said.
Davis School Bond
Two counties north of Orem, preliminary election results from Davis County indicate that voters are in favor of a $475 million bond for new schools and improvements for Davis School District.
As of Tuesday night, 56.85% of voters have voted for the issuance of bonds, while 43.15% have voted against the issuance of bonds.
Other bonds are now being paid off, so the district said an approved bond won't cause tax rates to increase. Additionally, with new homes and businesses that are paying into the broader tax base, homeowners won't see an increase as long as property values remain high.
The bond will be used to build new schools and improve existing ones, something that the district and its schools say is much needed.
Tami Oliver is a principal at Sunset Junior High and said that hot outdoor temperatures make for hot classrooms.
"We don't have air conditioning. I actually took some temperatures and we had classrooms that were in the 86- to 88-degree range," Oliver said. "Teachers are trying to teach when kids are hot, and when they're too hot, they can't think."
The building is also fairly small for a school that brings together the communities of South Weber, Clinton and Sunset and has just under 1,000 students.
"We just don't have that space for kids to break off and collaborate," Oliver said.
It's also showing signs of wear and tear due to its age.
"A new building would be good for our community," she added.
For Bountiful High School — built in 1951 — the primary concern that the bond aims to address is student safety.
"The area that's lacking is our front entryway," Bountiful High School principal Aaron Hogge said. "We do not have secure vestibules."
He said that the school is rich in tradition and that the bond would "create that opportunity for more pleasant spaces where students can more fully focus on their learning."
Contributing: Mike Anderson, Dale Spaulding