In my opinion, the most significant political issue currently facing Lehi is the upcoming Alpine School District (ASD) reconfiguration. A district split will significantly impact political representation, curriculum and policy implementations, and, most of all, tax burden.
This week, the ASD Board of Education heard an update from Superintendent Shane Farnsworth, who announced the selection of a consulting firm to study a possible split and its recommended options for voters to decide on in 2024. While that study will be important and provide the community with data and facts, the study will be a macro view of the entire district, not just Lehi.
Lehians, we must take a proactive approach to the upcoming split and ensure our community and children’s interests are prioritized! There will undoubtedly be an onslaught of questions and concerns throughout the process, but we can’t just wait around and go with the flow. We need our Lehi City Council, Mayor, staff, and local legislators to demand a seat at the table as decisions are made.
Do we need to conduct a Lehi City reconfiguration study on a Lehi-only district? I see benefits to conducting a study with a micro-focus on Lehi. This study could show the current output and input of Lehi taxpayer dollars, a study that looks at our projected population and would help stakeholders determine future capital needs. My guess is that we will see an increase in property taxes, but it’s important we know if and how much so we can make an educated decision on the value of localized education. Currently, 69% of your property tax bill goes to Alpine School District. That’s a significant chunk.
Do we want to partner with Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain in a future district? They are growing communities with rising populations, bringing both increased and rising tax bases, but these communities will have increased expenses and expenditures. Do we want to partner with Highland, Alpine, Cedar Hills, and American Fork? They are communities with steady populations and fewer capital needs than the Western part of Utah County, but when will they face an enrollment decline like we see in Orem?
If we partner with neighboring cities, how will we protect our representation on the future board and its voting power? The district has only looked at scenarios where Lehi is paired with Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain. With our neighbors to the west booming population centers, they will undoubtedly gain a majority of the future board. Is that a situation we’re willing to accept?
One thing is sure: Lehi has a flourishing economy with global tech headquarters and billion-dollar companies. From a tax-based perspective, we are fortunate to have healthy property tax revenues and high household incomes. Lehi City will be a significant asset in any district split. We need to start acting like it.
Several bills will run on Capitol Hill this upcoming session, such as one allowing ASD to place their proposed reconfiguration on the 2024 General Election ballot, and one to allow municipalities to create city districts, regardless of geographical boundaries. These decisions will be felt for decades, and we need our legislators to lead the way.
Over the next year, our community will be tasked with weighing the complexities of public education from economies of scale to localized control, to competitive teacher and staff salaries, to tax burden and everything in between.
Lehi must take a proactive approach in a future split for the well-being of our community and our children’s education.
Skyler Beltran is the Lehi Free Press political and government reporter and digital editor.