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Utah's 'splitting' headache

A federal judge's decision this week to reject a permanent injunction against the upcoming vote over splitting the Jordan School District only emphasizes how this is an issue the state Legislature has miserably failed to address.

The city of Herriman requested the injunction, part of a lawsuit it has filed against the lieutenant governor and the Salt Lake County clerk. Judge Ted Stewart ruled that the vote on the proposed split did not violate the Constitution, adding "this is a question best left to the Legislature."

But the Legislature seems incapable of finding an answer.

While the city may decide to appeal the ruling, and it appears determined to continue its lawsuit, it seems the best opportunity to bring fairness to next month's vote disappeared when lawmakers failed to address it during an August special session.

The issue boils down to fairness and a desire to manage consequences. A recently passed state law allows certain-sized cities to break away from large school districts and form their own. As a result, several east-side communities are proposing to leave the Jordan District. But if voters in those communities approve the proposal, the remaining west-side cities in the district would be left with huge tax burdens. That's because the majority of growth in the district is on the west side, where classrooms are bulging and new school construction is a priority. Rather than sharing the costs of construction among members of the current large district, the relatively poorer west side would have to pay for it alone.

Herriman had asked the court to intervene and allow the west-side residents to participate in the breakaway vote, as well.

The Salt Lake County Council and mayor seem to be the only governmental officials interested in making this issue more fair. They succeeded in stopping an effort to split the Granite District, given that much of it lies within unincorporated areas. But the only thing lawmakers managed to do during their special session was to take away the county's ability to stop the Jordan vote.

Absent any true leadership, the special session degenerated into arguments that showed a complete lack of leadership needed to reach a compromise.

Even if this doesn't rise to the level of a constitutional issue, the pending split is likely to create hardships on west-side residents that will, one way or the other, reverberate through the state Capitol.