Frequently Asked Questions
Why are you running for the Alpine School District Board?
We need to have a plan for the future growth in our district beyond just projected pupil numbers. This plan needs to include dividing the district in the best possible way for employees, patrons, and students. I would also like to reduce the burden on school educators by reducing district mandates.
How do you feel about the proposed bond for 2016?
Knowing the needs we have, I tentatively support the proposed bond, but I plan to go to the community meetings to find out more about the proposal.
Why do you feel the district should be divided?
Division is a natural result of growth. When something gets too big, it should be divided - like we do with schools and classes. Community-sized districts help ensure local control and community involvement. One sign we are too big is that our current school board districts are larger than our state legislative districts.
Why should we divide now?
If we don't plan for it, a district division can happen anyway, and it could be difficult, abrasive, and/or less than optimal. We already have one city that is large enough to create its own district (Orem), and we will soon have another (Lehi). But if the change begins with the school board, it will be a much smoother, and well-planned process.
How big is too big?
The optimum size of a district should be one or two high schools and their feeder schools. At 75,000 students, we are way past that. Even if we split into 3 districts, all 3 would still be among the 12 largest in the state.
Wouldn't it cost more to have multiple districts?
As long as they aren't too small, community-sized districts are only more expensive if they choose to be. Funding for schools is based on Utah's equalizing formula. If a district has more students who qualify for extra services, such as in Ogden School District, they will receive more funding per student. If they have less students qualifying for extra services, like ASD, they will get less funding per student. That makes comparing districts' funding rather unproductive. However if you look at administrative costs per student, you can see that South Sanpete (3500 students), is just as efficient as ASD (75,000 students). See http://smallerschools.blogspot.com/2015/05/administrative-costs-per-pupil-compared.html
Aren't larger districts more efficient?
Larger districts have a pyramid of administration, so that as it becomes larger in its base population, the bureaucracy grows more in volume. Smaller districts are more likely to have a higher percentage of funding reaching the classroom than larger districts.
Don't we need to stay together to get new schools built?
Actually this is one of the biggest reasons to divide. The larger a school district is, the larger its schools become, because they cannot get the political will to keep up with the need. ASD is a perfect example. In the 1980's two bonds failed, which were needed to build schools in Orem as they grew. The north end of the district was not growing, so they voted against them.
The district learned that to pass the bonds, they needed to give something to everyone in order to get their vote. With that strategy they have been able to pass several bonds, but what are the consequences? Instead of building, say 10 schools, they have to take money for projects where there is no growth, which usually means adding onto existing schools, which may only leave enough for 6. They still have enough students for 10 schools, but only enough money for 6, so they make each school bigger, so that they can house all of the students and then apply for more busing money from the state. This increases taxpayers cost without attributing it to the district, because the buildings come from the bond, but the busing comes from the state income taxes for schools, leaving less for students in order to pay for purchasing, operating, and maintaining buses. As time goes on and more bonds are passed and schools built, the schools get bigger, both existing and new schools, and it never ends.
With community-sized districts the community will build all of the needed schools, at appropriate sizes, because they are all affected by the need. That means that schools are closer to the neighborhoods they serve, with less state-funded busing and transportation costs to parents as well. These moderately-sized schools also give better results for students and happier teachers and parents. See http://smallerschools.org/smaller_schools.php
What will this do to teachers? Didn't teachers lose when Jordan split?
The Jordan split took place in 2008, right when the economy went down. The mood of policy-makers (legislators and board members) was that everyone needed to take cuts. That was also when more demands were put on teachers than ever before. The last ten years have been very difficult on teachers. Those in Jordan and Canyons Districts blamed those problems on the division, which was coincidental, not consequential.
The law specifically states that salaries and benefits must remain the same after the division. There is no reason the employees in the schools would lose. The district administrators are the only ones who would be adversely affected. Their jobs would not be guaranteed and in some cases not needed. While there would be additional superintendents - at smaller salaries - there would be less district administrators under each superintendent. The superintendent's "cabinet" could be school principals instead of district administrators. This would bring the district closer to the teachers and the community.
What about tax base?
Utah has equalized the maintenance and operations funding. That is the funding for running the schools. Most of the property tax you pay to the schools is essentially taken by the state and returned with sufficient state income tax funds to equalize the funding on a per student basis, so that districts are not disadvantaged by a small tax base. Park City has a super tax base that produces more than the state has designated, so the state captures some of it and leaves the rest. ASD has a smaller tax base, mainly because it has more kids per taxpayer, so the state subsidizes our per-pupil funding. There is a small amount that districts can chose to tax themselves above that amount called the voter leeway, which the district can keep.
Bonding for buildings is not subsidized and is up to the district's taxpayers. A community-sized district is much more likely than a large district to bond and build the schools it needs without doing extras to buy votes in non-growing areas order to pass a bond.
Why would district administrators oppose a division?
I had an interesting conversation with a school administrator while I was in the legislature. When asked if it was time to divide the large district he was in, he said no. I asked at what the size we should split, and he hesitated. I asked if he wanted to have 500,000 students in the district (like Las Vegas). He said, "Of course not". Then at what point should we divide? The answer was basically, "Not until I retire." And that is what just about every school administrator will say. So the issue gets kicked down the road for someone else to deal with as we get bigger and bigger, with the attendant problems.
For more information about the benefits of community-sized school districts, go to http://www.smallerschools.org/smaller_districts.php.