The sincerity of the commitment among Utah citizens to support public education was evident in an emphatic way on Election Day when voters approved the issuance of more than a half billion dollars in bonds to finance school construction in two districts. Bonding proposals in the Jordan and Alpine districts were each approved by a significant majority of votes, demonstrating a growing agreement in some regions about investing in our education infrastructure.
The funding measures will raise money for 14 new schools in the two districts. In the Alpine District, a $386 million bond issue was supported by about 70 percent of voters. A $245 million bond issue in the Jordan District was supported by 60 percent of voters.
Those numbers are yet more evidence that spending money on schools is politically popular. It’s a message that should carry weight when the Utah Legislature convenes in January.
While individual districts are responsible for building schools and other facilities, operational costs are heavily borne by state funds allocated to the districts. It’s one thing for a community to have state-of-the-art buildings with sufficient capacity for its student population; it’s another if they are not adequately staffed and supported by an appropriately commensurate level of investment by the state.
The money raised on Election Day will finance nine new schools in the Alpine District and pay for four rebuilds and ten renovation projects. In the Jordan District, ground will be broken next spring for a new high school, two new middle schools and two elementary schools. In addition, an existing middle school will be rebuilt. The construction is necessary in both districts to accommodate rising student populations. In the next five years, the Jordan district will add 9,000 new students while Alpine adds a projected 6,000.
In both bond elections, the voters got it right, and so did the districts. They put together sensible plans to accommodate growing student populations. In the Jordan District, the bond issue was a “do-over” after a 2013 proposal to issue $495 million in bonds was soundly rejected by voters. District leaders recognized they had over-reached, and went back to the drawing board to focus on budgeting efficiencies in order to bring down the wished-for bond amount — something voters clearly appreciated.
The results in the two bond elections are impressive given that any initiative that seeks to raise taxes automatically carries a heavy burden. In the Jordan and Alpine districts, voters agreed to accept property tax increases in order to support something they rightly believe is critically important to the future of their communities.