Following about a 90-minute discussion Tuesday, the Jordan Board of Education voted to abandon an 11th hour effort to let everyone in the district vote on whether to split in two, and instead took a neutral position on the controversial issue.

The board had examined a proposal to petition Salt Lake County for a school district split but only if east side cities decided to put the measure on the ballot. The board said it wanted to let everyone in the district vote on the proposal to split the district. But having the cities seek a split allows only those in the proposed boundary to vote — a thorn in the side of west-side residents.

But questions remained as to whether the district request could meet legal deadlines, or invite a lawsuit the district doesn't want.

"I think everyone ought to have a voice in this ... but let municipalities fight this fight," board vice president Tracy Cowdell said. "I'm almost certain this issue will be litigated ... it just doesn't have to be us that does it."

But board member Peggy Jo Kennett, with colleague Randy Brinkerhoff, supported petitioning the county.

"We're not trying to stop the vote; we're not trying to take a position on whether the district should split," Kennett said. "We're trying to concentrate on a constitutional issue of who has the right to vote. Everyone would be affected by a district split ... therefore, everyone should have a right to vote."

Members voted 5-to-2 to abandon the effort, and 4-to-3 to take a neutral position on the issue.

State law maps three separate routes to split a district: through a citizens petition, a request from an existing district, or an interlocal group, which is the process underway now by east-side cities Alta, Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Midvale, Sandy and Salt Lake County. Councils are expected to vote in mid-July whether to put the question to voters who live within the proposed new district boundary, as stated in the law, this November.

But the law says everyone in the existing school district can have a vote if a district asks the county for a split.

Board President J. Dale Christensen said the board examined the possibility in hopes of resolving a constitutional question, first raised by five west-side mayors, of whether some could be excluded from voting on an issue that affects them. Board attorney Blake Ostler said an east-side only vote would essentially unseat officials the west side elected to represent them, and without a west side say.

Several west-siders supported his message.

"If the district has any way to make it a districtwide vote, I want my voice to be heard," said Angela Davis, parent from Foothills Elementary in Riverton. If west siders remained barred from a vote, she said, "I'm personally looking into a class-action lawsuit."

Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, doubted the district could meet the "very prescriptive timeline that's in statute" to put its request on the November ballot, including having the county form a committee to study the matter and take public comment first.

Ostler agreed but told the board: "Unless you ask, the county has no legal authority ... to allow all voters in the Jordan School District to have a say."

Walker, however, believes the district's proposal was otherwise motivated. "They really want to derail the division," she said in an interview.

Board member Kim Horiuchi said some of her constituents believed the board's proposal was outside the spirit of the law.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com