School Split Compromise Passes House Committee

Representative Craig Hall (Republican - West Valley City)
Representative Craig Hall (Republican – West Valley City)

Legislation that would set rules on the formation of new school districts was passed out of the House Education Committee with a favorable recommendation Monday.

HB 93 – School District Amendments, sponsored by Representative Craig Hall (Republican – West Valley City), was advanced on a 6-3 vote. Representatives Kim Coleman (Republican – West Jordan), Justin Fawson (Republican – North Ogden), and Marie Poulson (Democrat – Cottonwood Heights) voted against the measure.

Under the bill, a city or interlocal agreement participant would not be allowed to create a new school district if a feasibility study shows that the five-year projected average annual revenue of the new school district exceeds the five-year projected average annual cost by more than 5 percent.

“This is a good, bipartisan bill that protects taxpayers and students,” Hall told the committee.

Hall presented his bill to the House Education Committee in January, and received a chilly reception. Hall has since made some changes to the bill to assuage concerns from, among others, the city of South Jordan.

“This bill is about making sure that, in the creation of a new school district, we don’t end up with the situation where we have 70 percent of the tax base and 30 percent of the kids or, even worse, 70 percent of the kids and 30 percent of the tax base,” said Hall.

There are three ways to split a school district, including a citizens’ initiative petition, the school board of the existing district can decide to split, and the city council or interlocal participants can agree to split. Hall assured the committee that his bill will not stop school districts from splitting. “This bill only affects the third method of possibly splitting a school district. It does not affect the method of splitting a school district through a citizens’ initiative petition. It does not affect the 105 percent rule.”

Chip Dawson, intergovernmental affairs coordinator for South Jordan City, spoke in favor of the legislation. The substitute bill “provides South Jordan the flexibility it needs with this interlocal agreement to do the things we’d like to do,” he told the committee.

Brian Allen, representing Cottonwood Heights, still opposes the bill. He has concerns about the 5 percent rule. “When we went to form our city 10 years ago, we had boundaries that were established that took care of all the islands between us and Sandy City, but we were over the 5 percent threshold. We had the opportunity to adjust our boundaries to get below that 5 percent. This bill doesn’t afford any opportunity to do that, so it’s kind of a make-or-break thing. You either meet the 5 percent or you don’t.”

Allen believes that equalization is the best way to fix school district split issues. “We’ve got to equalize funding. Really, truly equalize funding. I may go to my grave talking about it. It may never happen in my lifetime. It’s something we ought to do. I’m afraid if we don’t do it, we’ll have a judicial body telling us we have to do it. I would much rather the legislature had a thoughtful process for coming to a conclusion to do that, rather than us being told by the courts we have to do it,” said Allen.

Patrick Reimherr, director of government relations and senior advisor in the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office, believes the bill is good policy and urged it’s passage “Our council has voted in favor of this as well. We think as amended it’s a good compromise.”

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