OPINION: Is a Lehi City School District in our future?
I heard an insistent, loud knock on my door the Wednesday morning after the election. I was elected to a seat on the Alpine School District School Board for the Lehi, Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs area. I was immediately accountable to a large contingent of North Utah County citizens who wanted some changes.
Sterling Merrill, a prominent Lehi citizen, was standing on my porch. I invited him inside, and we talked for over an hour. Merrill had recently paid for a full-page ad in the Lehi Free Press expressing his views about the possibility of a new school district in the area. He was concerned about the remodel that was being started at the high school and the seeming lack of support for Lehi educational issues from district leaders. As a newly elected board member, I realized I was in for a bumpy ride.
In 2002, with a newly appointed district superintendent and business manager for Alpine School District, the possibility of a district split was improbable.
Lehi citizen and Utah State Representative Dave Cox, the primary writer of state legislation to split districts, provided a road map for this complicated process. This legislation exacerbated the pressure for Lehi, Eagle Mountain, and Saratoga Springs to pull out of the Alpine School District.
Cox had created a committee and process for the split. The new district would be called the Pioneer School District. The documentation and feasibility study had been done, but the idea did not resonate with the public.
In 2004, a feasibility study was conducted by BYU’s Marriott School of Management to look at a possible district split. At that time, the study said the new district could be successful with the right combination of local control and leadership. However, the study said residents would see a significant tax increase.
In 2009, Canyons School District had recently pulled out of Jordan School District, so a precedent was established. The split was not without its troubles because the Jordan District had burgeoning population growth in the Riverton and Herriman areas and a lack of financial resources to accommodate the split.This problem has been replicated in the North Utah County area.
With the explosive growth in northern Utah County, there is renewed pressure to split the largest district in Utah and one of the largest in the nation. Orem City Council members recently voted 3-2 to include a measure on the November ballot to have Orem become their own district. In the feasibility study commissioned by Orem City, findings show that Orem would be in a good financial position to form its own district. The study also named Lehi as the only other community in the district that could financially manage its own district. Terry Peterson, Orem City Councilman, stated, “Orem wants to have the ability to make local decisions. We feel that people who live in their own district can have a greater impact on their local schools. We would like to pay our teachers more and have smaller class sizes. Our needs are unique to our area.”
It will be interesting to see how Orem voters react to the district split idea in November. If Orem approves the split, I feel there will be additional pressure from Lehi patrons to follow Orem’s lead and, perhaps, other communities will follow suit.