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Potential Alpine School District split in early discussions

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Board discusses two-way split, King asks for data on three-way split. 

By Braley Dodson | Guest Writer

The Alpine School District may be one step closer to splitting.

The Alpine School District Board of Education received a report during a study session on Feb. 9 that could kick off future discussions to divide the district potentially.

No board members expressed explicit opinions in favor of or against a possible split, and the board did not announce a timeline for potential action.

District administrators presented summary information on property taxes and valuations, student enrollment and projections, population numbers, and staff positions and buildings that would need duplication if a split were to occur. They also asked what additional information the board would need to help it decide if the district should split.

Mark Clement, the board’s president, urged other board members to think about the criteria they’d consider in deciding.

“It might be different for each of us, but we need to talk about that,” he said.

He suggested the district could survey the community to gather opinions on a potential division.

“For me, that would be very important for making a decision,” Clement said. 

Talk about a potential split has circulated among the district’s community for years as enrollment continues to rise. However, the district’s board of education has not publicly discussed a division in recent years.

The district has more than 80,000 students and is considering placing a $500 million bond on the 2022 ballot that would fund building additional schools to handle growth. 

Rob Smith, an assistant superintendent for the district, told the board he served on a potential district split committee in 2003.

Smith said potential factors for a split include whether or not students are performing at lower levels, if the district’s financial strength is declining, and if the public engagement is declining. Smith did not present information on those topics during the meeting.

Smith pointed to districts across the nation that are consolidating to cut administration costs and prevent duplication of services. Facilities like the district’s Christa McAuliffe Space Center at Central Elementary School in Pleasant Grove, he said, would also need to be considered.

He told the board that students carry both financial resources from the state, along with responsibility. While growth appears constant on the district’s east and west sides, he said Vineyard’s rapid growth had skewed those numbers.

Smith mentioned the Canyons School District split from the Jordan School District about a decade ago and how that split created a need for a second set of buildings and staff. He said it cost those districts about $64 million to build the needed facilities.

“I think there are some things Alpine has done to mitigate those kinds of impacts,” Smith said.

That includes having two existing transportation facilities. There is also the possibility that two districts could share some buildings.

He estimates that it would cost $24 million to build a second district office and warehouse. 

There would be additional costs for the second set of administrative staff for a new district, along with more fees for insurance and legal counsel. 

The district has already considered creating a second warehouse to help with the limited space in its existing facility. However, it did not receive approval to build it where it had previously eyed to do so. Smith did not disclose that location during the meeting.

“There is a lot of warehouse space, although it is starting to come in the west area,” he said.

Another consideration is how the district’s current bond debt would be divided. Amber Bonner, a board member, said she wants to see how the debt would be divided and if that amount would change every year based on growth. She also wants to see what property taxes would be needed in both potential districts to continue to receive the same amount of funding. 

Julie King, a board member, said she would like to discuss the matter with local government leaders to find out their opinions on a split.

“I think that is an important part of it for me,” she said.

King said she also wants the district to study a three-way split.

She’s concerned about what a split could mean for a potential 2022 bond vote.

“I am a bit worried that the sticker shock of that number alone may be a significant burden for us to overcome, and if we are at a place where we are unable to bond because of that sticker price–that is a significant concern,” King said.

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