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West Jordan may vote on own school district

Results of feasibility study encourage elected leaders

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WEST JORDAN — A proposal for a West Jordan-only school district may find its way onto the ballot in November, no matter what happens on the east side of Salt Lake County.

Buoyed by preliminary results of a feasibility study, West Jordan elected leaders are backing away from previous claims that the city would break away from the Jordan School District only if east-side cities do the same.

"I see some real value in (splitting from the district) even if the east-side cities don't pull out," Mayor David Newton said in an interview Friday. "If it's good for West Jordan, regardless of what happens on the east side, should we go ahead with it? That's what we have to decide."

Consultants from Lewis Young Robertson & Burningham Inc. on Friday gave the West Jordan City Council an advance look at the firm's findings on the feasibility of creating a new school district within city boundaries.

The new district would require a property tax increase of between 10 percent and 25 percent in West Jordan, no matter what happens on the east side, according to principal consultant Jason Burningham.

West Jordan students currently are being subsidized somewhat by the rest of the Jordan School District, Burningham said. West Jordan students represent about 26 percent of the district's enrollment, but the city makes up only 18 percent of the district's taxable values, he said.

West Jordan likely will overcome that discrepancy through commercial growth, he said, but that could take about five to 10 years.

Newton said the tax increase was expected, and even at the highest possible increase needed, the tax rate would remain within the statutory limit set by the state.

West Jordan's southwest Salt Lake County neighbors would be the ones taking the biggest hit if the city and the east-side contingents break away from the Jordan School District.

Those departures would necessitate tax increases of 25 percent to 30 percent for cities in the remaining Jordan School District — South Jordan, Riverton, Herriman and Bluffdale, all high-growth areas anticipating huge capital project needs.

Newton said he's hoping that problem will be addressed by the ongoing effort at the state level to equalize capital funding for schools throughout the state.

"That would make (splitting from the school district) a much easier decision," Newton said. "It's not fair to put that burden on just those cities."

The study also uncovered one possible hangup in West Jordan's plans: A city-only school district would leave 12 students living in Taylorsville and Murray without a school district.

A sliver of homes in Taylorsville and Murray currently is aligned with West Jordan in the Jordan School District. If West Jordan's district boundaries follow municipality lines, as is required by state law to form a new district, that area would become an island, Burningham said.

Those issues likely could be resolved through interlocal agreements between the cities and school districts, but getting those in place in time to put the split on the ballot could be tricky.

Cities on the east side of Salt Lake County have encountered other problems with ambiguity in the new state law allowing cities to form smaller school districts, and elected leaders are proposing to solve them through a legislative amendment in 2008.

"I'd be more than happy to hold off and wait to vote until all the issues are solved," Newton said, "if the east side would do the same thing."

Several residents who attended Friday afternoon's special council meeting expressed concern at how quickly city leaders are having to make a decision about the future of education in West Jordan.

"What does West Jordan ultimately gain?" asked resident Ray Graft. "The only thing I heard in the report that West Jordan would gain is local control, and I don't feel that's enough."

What's next?

The feasibility study is expected to be complete Thursday or Friday. West Jordan city officials said the document will be available on the city's Web site, www.wjordan.com.

A public hearing on West Jordan's proposed split from the Jordan School District has been set for 6 p.m. Aug. 6 at City Hall, 8000 S. Redwood Road. The City Council could vote on whether to put the split on the ballot during its regular meeting Aug. 7.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com