Mail-in ballots will arrive in a few days, and Lehi voters will decide who will represent them on the Alpine District School Board. Scott Carlson is currently serving as president of the board and is seeking re-election as Lehi’s board member.
Lehi Free Press: Tell us a little about your family and history in Lehi. How long have you lived in Lehi?
Scott Carlson: My grandfather bought a farm here in the mid-1950s. He graduated from Lehi High School in 1960. My mother is a Pleasant Grove Viking. My wife and I bought our first home just north of Lehi Junior High in 1995 and our second home just up the road in 2010. Our four children attended Sego Lily Elementary, Lehi Junior High, Lehi High and Skyridge. We love this city and are glad to serve and advocate for the families of Lehi.
LFP: What are some of the accomplishments for Lehi you feel you’ve helped achieve while serving as a ASD Board Member?
SC: We have worked hard to provide new schools in Lehi, including Skyridge, River Rock, Dry Creek, Belmont, Liberty Hills and the new North Junior High under construction and to rebuild Lehi High School.
We have increased starting teacher salary from about $34,000 in 2013 to $45,946 this year (Lane 1A step 1). Salaries for support employees have likewise increased. Forbes Magazine just ranked Alpine School District as the best educational organization to work for in Utah. That’s great news, but not enough, and we are working to provide better salaries and support for all employees.
LFP: What are your goals for the next four years as a school board member?
SC: I would like to provide additional funding for increased numbers of teachers and thereby reduce class sizes by a significant margin. This will reduce the burden that our teachers carry and provide a better opportunity for students to succeed.
I’d like to raise the starting teacher salary to at least $60,000. This will allow us to be more competitive with other career opportunities and attract the best college graduates to be teachers in our district.
LFP: With constraints on the budget from the state legislature, how likely is it that you will be able to accomplish these goals?
SC: Some of the state funding is unrestricted and has been used for the district’s general operations. Some of these funds have been used for utilities and building operations in some of the oldest and under-enrolled schools. There is no need to spend $20 million to rebuild an old 1948 school with 250 students next door to a school built in the mid-1980s. Those two schools can be consolidated and still be a great small school with under 600 students. We can make reasonable adjustments like these that follow public input garnered from our recent capital resources survey. I estimate that we can save more than $5-$8 million each year and cancel rebuilding projects valued at $50-$80 million. We will re-arrange how funds are spent to provide for the highest purpose for our students.
LFP: Do you feel it helps Lehi with you serving as President of the Board?
SC: Lehi benefits from the confidence shown by all of the school board members in selecting me to serve as president of the board. The board president’s role includes setting agenda items, speaking on behalf of the board and conveying the direction of the board to the district administration. While it is not possible to advance a direction that is not supported by the majority of the board, it has been valuable to present solutions that address our city and the district’s needs.
LFP: COVID-19 has impacted our schools. What efforts did you and the board take to provide a safe learning environment for students and teachers?
SC: Significant discussion and investigation occurred throughout the summer regarding online, hybrid, and in-person learning options. As a board, we worked with district administrators, the teachers association, support professionals association, and local and state health officials to develop school opening plan options. We also gathered input from thousands of parents to learn what mattered most in this unprecedented time. I am pleased to have supported opening our schools for in-person learning every day. I am confident it was the best decision to allow families to decide if their students should participate in-person or online. We provided personal protective equipment (PPE) for teachers and students. I am glad that the district has compiled a team of excellent teachers to create an online curriculum for all teachers to minimize their workload.
As conditions have changed, we have adjusted. We recently provided school-by-school COVID-19 case information, so families are aware of the conditions associated with their local schools.
LFP: A couple of months ago, the board decided not to ask voters in 2020 to approve a general obligation bond for new buildings. Will this cause overcrowding in Lehi or other areas?
SC: ASD bond practice has been on a five-year cycle for quite some time (2016, 2011, 2006…). Since 2021 is not a major election, we evaluated the possibility of accelerating to 2020. In my opinion, given the pandemic and economic conditions, it was better to wait until 2022.
Lehi now has the schools it needs (or construction is being completed for 2021 opening).
Skyridge and Willowcreek have very large student populations now but will be reasonably sized after the new junior high opens. In the next 4-8 years, I can see the need for two more elementary schools and one more high school on Lehi’s west side. These will be needed when growth accelerates faster than current students are advancing to the next schools. We hope that Lehi will support the 2022 bond request so that these schools can be on that plan.
In addition to the new junior high in north Lehi, ASD is also in the middle of constructing new elementary schools in north Vineyard and south Saratoga Springs. These schools meet current growth needs. Additional growth is expected in the coming years, and another bond request is expected in 2022. The schools that are being delayed by not bonding early in 2020 are those old schools that need to be rebuilt but are not overcrowded.
The current ASD bonds will have a substantial portion paid off in 2022, and a new bond can be layered in to keep from increasing tax amounts at that time.
LFP: Instead of bonding, you voted to increase the tax rate this year. When I compare my property tax rate over the past several years, it is still lower now. How is that possible?
The county assessor sets property values each year. As property values throughout the district go up, the tax rates automatically go down. The tax rate for ASD in 2012 was 0.008828. In 2015 the rate was 0.008177. In 2018 it was 0.006964. In 2020 the ASD portion is 0.006744. One segment of the tax rate was approaching a bottom limit set by the state legislature where, if it dropped below that rate, the state would remove approximately $10 million in matching funds. The state philosophy is to ensure that local funding sources are contributing adequately.
The ASD board determined that as the tax rate was dropping again this year, it was best to adjust now and stay in compliance with state guidelines. The board adjustment brings about 2% of what a bond would be, but these tax funds can be used to support teachers and are not limited to construction projects alone.
LFP: How is serving on the school board different from other opportunities to volunteer in our schools?
SC: I volunteered for 15 years with the PTA and school community council before being elected to the school board. We need and appreciate everyone who volunteers in their local school. Serving on the school board is entirely different. It is a management role for the whole district. It is not an opportunity to push your own ideas or agendas. It is not about arguing with other board members until you get your way but about listening to many opinions from all stakeholders and striving to do what is best for all students, teachers and families.