Keeping Up with Growth: A Challenge for School Districts

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One of the greatest dilemmas for school districts is how to build enough schools in fast growing areas to house the increase in student population. While state capital funds can alleviate some of the maintenance needs, there is never enough money to build schools. Districts are allowed, by law, to bond for school buildings. The bonds are paid for by property taxes levied upon the patrons in the individual school districts. Alpine School District is in the process of informing the public about the necessity of passing a bond to build new schools in the burgeoning communities in the north end of the district. This is a critical need in the district.

In an interview with Alpine School District school board member, Scott Carlson (from Lehi), he stated the problems in building new schools are varied and complex especially when large tracts of land are involved. Cities can assess impact fees for infrastructure needs, such as water, sewer, power, roads, etc., but school districts cannot assess such fees even though schools are as essential to communities as are basic utilities and roads. Board member Carlson feels that impact fees should be assessed for schools, but because of the lobbying power of builders and developers this legislation never gets passed.

In the recent approval of the Holbrook Farms development there was no land set aside for schools, which is not required by Lehi City. However, there is 10% of the total land area that must be side aside for open space as required by city policy. As important as open space is, land for schools is just as necessary. The school district must now negotiate with the developer for land for schools. The increase in the price per acre of the land makes land acquisition a very costly endeavor. If school districts could negotiate with land owners directly, land could be purchased more cheaply. There is a significant difference between the cost to school districts of raw land and land that must be purchased from developers. For example, an acre of land recently purchased from a local landowner was $125,000 per acre while an acre of land purchased from a developer was $250,000, said Mr. Carlson.

One of the difficulties for school districts in building new schools in fast growing areas is having the necessary money on hand to purchase land in advance of development. For this reason, Mr Carlson feels that school district leaders should be involved in a collaborative setting with leaders of the cities, and landowners so that all of the citizens’ needs are considered. He further stated that there is no benefit to cities if developers are kind to school districts because no revenue is generated by schools.

One of the ironies of the building boom is that schools do attract home development. Once a school site is finalized, land values and home prices appreciate in the vicinity of the school. Developers garner huge profits when schools are built in their neighborhoods.

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