Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
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On July 1, 2009, the Canyons School District was officially created when it split from the Jordan School District. Everyone has an opinion on the split and the resulting situation that could result in the layoffs of hundreds of teachers.
The division has left grievances on both sides.
"The split has not worked very well," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said last month. Students protested the layoffs of teachers on Feb. 25. One student said, "If we don't have great educators at our schools, we won't have great schools."
Canyons School District supporters say they needed their own district because the Jordan School District wasn't using their resources to benefit their children.
This week's "Sunday Edition" focuses on the split, the future of the two districts and the financial problems all Utah school districts are facing.
Former Utah Gov. Norman Bangerter and Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore discuss the split, the issues on both sides and how to solve them. Bangerter is a resident and supporter of the Jordan School District, while Cullimore championed the creation of the Canyons School District.
Bangerter argues the split was financially unfair because the Canyons district has 58 percent of the tax base and 42 percent of the students. According to a poll for KSL and the Deseret News by Dan Jones & Associates, most residents agree the split was unfair.
- 75 percent say the split was unfair to Jordan students
- 71 percent say that it was unfair to Jordan taxpayers
- 78 percent say it was unfair to Jordan employees and teachers
"We're the growth area," says Bangerter. "So where do we go from here? We ought to have more equalization."
Cullimore agrees with the need for some equalization and says Canyons is paying for Jordan growth. Property owners in the Canyons district are paying for a bond used to built schools on the west side.
The Cottonwood Heights mayor says they are disappointed the Canyons is being blamed for Jordan's problems. "If you study the numbers, the creation of the Canyons district is not the main contributor to the financial problems the Jordan School District is facing," he says.
Cullimore believes the majority of the shortfall has to do with state funding and growing expenses.
KSL's Richard Piatt discusses education funding. Money is an extreme challenge for all Utah schools this year. Education is an enormous part of the state's budget and the recession has made solving funding problems a challenge.
Lawmakers are calling for cuts to everything this year, including education.
"You just can't escape with the revenue drops, without looking at public ed," says Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.
There are some possible solutions. A proposed tobacco tax will raise $44 million this year, but it is not a long-term fix for education.
HB 354, if passed, would allow school districts to transfer building fund money to use in the classroom. This could also help distressed districts like Jordan and Grand, but it is only a partial solution.
"It's not the $30 million they're short, but it would help dampen the impact," says Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork.
The goal of "Sunday Edition" is to host civil discourse on meaningful topics. We invite you to join the conversation.
Please send us your comments, ideas and even write a whole essay. We encourage you to submit your thoughtful reflections on this week's discussion of the Jordan-Canyons split and funding education in Utah.
We will place those submissions deemed most insightful on the "Sunday Edition" section front page.
What is best for the children must now become the overriding concern of everyone who is trying to make sense of and resolve the debacle of what has occurred with the Jordan School District.
It is easy to point fingers. After all, there is plenty of blame to go around: to short-sighted lawmakers and over-aggressive lobbyists who facilitated the ill-conceived break up of the state's largest school district; to ambitious local politicians and outspoken citizens who engineered the selfishly successful secession movement; to an existing school board that failed over time to make decisions that could have averted the bitter divorce; and to a recession that fueled the raging "perfect storm" and the mega-million dollar deficit the district now faces.
Finger pointing, though, doesn't solve the problem. Harsh words and bitter feelings only perpetuate the damage. Rather, it is time for rancor to abate in the search for rational and realistic ways to meet the educational needs of the thousands of children most directly affected by what is happening.
A combination of legislative relief, increased local taxes and employee sacrifice will be essential to getting the job done. And in the course of fixing the Jordan debacle, let all concerned take steps to assure something like this never happens again.
I watched your program this morning concerning school funding in Utah. It seems to me that our legislature is not addressing the real, long-term issue of funding education in Utah. For example, a tax hike on cigarettes should be used to fund the associated health costs that smoking creates, not used as a short-term fix for school funding. After all, the tax increase is intended to reduce the number of smokers which inherently will reduce tax collection in the long term.
The elephant in the closet that no one wants to address is the average size of Utah families. A couple of possible solutions to long-term education funding is a head tax per student, or a reduction in tax benefits associated with each child in the family. A combination of both would be the best solution. In Utah, we pride ourselves on being self sufficient, independent and responsible. Let's start being responsible for the education of our own children.
Another possible solution to many funding issues in Utah is to start collecting sales tax on all internet sales. Our current tax structure allows Utah citizens to purchase goods off the internet, from out of state retailers, without paying sales tax. Not only is the state missing out on millions of dollars in revenue, it's actually encouraging its citizens to buy out of state, rather than support local business. In keeping with full disclosure, I work for a major retailer in Utah and I see on a daily basis the amount of revenue the state is losing from non taxed internet sales. Collection of sales tax on all internet sales is not only a good source of much needed revenue for our great state, it's a fair, consumer use tax that would even the playing field for local business in Utah.
The poll result on the Jordan district division is not surprising when that's all the public has been told for the past two years by the media. If the media had done to our founding fathers what it has done to these modern day pioneers, George Washington, etc., would never have been able to split from Great Britain. District administrators have also not been above arousing and inflaming the natural antagonism of one region against another to defeat any creation of a new school district.
When it was proposed that Lehi split from the Alpine School District, we were told Lehi would need a 40 percent tax hike while Orem would be able to lower their taxes. When Orem proposed dividing a couple years later, the district then said the opposite, that Orem would see a reduction in their funding.
The method used in creating Canyons was done because district administrators would use data to inflame one region against another to stop any and all proposed divisions. Statewide equalization would take away one of their (district administrators) weapons for killing proposals, but it would not change their opposition to creating smaller school districts.
Among many other things the public hasn't been told is that Jordan School District has more tax base per student than Alpine, Cache, Davis, Nebo and Weber school districts without any extra! These districts are facing the same problems of growth with cuts in funding. Jordan administrators are using the current economic shortage to blame and scare people against dividing our huge Wasatch Front school districts, which would be the best thing we could do for education.
Final suggestion: Do what Gov. Bangerter said and have every high school and its feeder schools become their own school district. Have the State Board oversee and require these divisions or creations, including new ones as growth requires.
-David N. Cox