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The City Journals

School district looks to pass bond

Oct 28, 2016 12:53PM ● By Tori La Rue

B-track students at Riverside Elementary finish their school day while the other half of their class heads home for the day during a new modified-traditional pilot program. The growth of the Jordan School District has led district officials to try new ways to accommodate growth. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

South Jordan, Utah - With a rapid increase in student population in coming years, Jordan School District officials are looking to pass a $245 million bond for six new school buildings in the November ballot.

“When there are too many in the school and classes are too large or held in facilities that aren’t adequate, education can suffer,” said Susan Pulsipher, Jordan Board of Education President. “We feel that it is important for this bond to pass to continue to provide high-quality education.” 

Voters in the Jordan School District turned down a $495 million bond in the 2013 election, claiming it was too large. The district reworked the new bond proposal, reducing construction costs by 17 percent and decreasing the list of items to be accomplished. 

The proposed bond includes a complete rebuild of West Jordan Middle School, which was built 60 years ago and is currently the oldest school in the district. It also includes building a high school in Herriman, new middle schools in South Jordan and the Bluffdale/Herriman area, and elementary schools in Bluffdale and Herriman. The schools would open between the 2019–20 and 2021–22 academic years, and would help to accommodate the projected 9,000 new students that will enter the district within the next five years.

If the bond passes, Zions Bank estimates the average homeowner will pay $16.80 more per year than they currently pay for bond payments, but there is a chance that the numbers could increase or decrease slightly. Bond payments will eventually go down because the new bond would be issued as old bonds from 2003 are paid off, Pulsipher said.

Currently Jordan School District is home to the two most populated three-year high schools in the state—Herriman High School and Copper Hills High School, each nearing 3,000 students. The district also claims three of the top-10 most populated middle schools in the state and six of the 18 elementary schools in Utah with more than 1,000 students. The district is tracking 633 new residential developments throughout the community that could lead to more explosive growth, including Riverton’s 543-acre Mountain View Village development announced earlier this year. 

Herriman High School is projected to grow to 4,700 students in the next five years; the Copper Mountain Middle school population is expected to double in five years (the school would need 55 portables to accommodate the increase), and Bluffdale Elementary is will likely grow to 2,172 students in 2021, according to the study. 

District representatives said Copper Hills High School’s population is likely to stay around 3,000, which is why they are not proposing a new high school for the west side of West Jordan. Heather McKenna, a West Jordan resident whose ninth-grade son attends Sunset Ridge Middle School, said she disagrees with the district’s choices for school placement. 

“I think that I can support a bond and see the necessity of what they are doing, but they could do something to balance the south and north side of area to see that everyone gets the schools they need,” she said. “They say that Herriman is growing more than our current land allows us to grow, but there’s a handful of land the city’s trying to rezone that was not considered in their tally of land that’s already being developed.” 

While McKenna’s son will already be out of the public school system by the time the new schools are constructed, she said she’s concerned for other friends and neighbors in the area. While Herriman needs more schools and bigger schools, McKenna said she would’ve liked to see the district construct a small high school on the parcel they own across from Sunset Ridge. Instead, the district plans to sell the land. 

“A small school could at least provide a little relief,” she said. 

Pulsipher said the opening of the new schools in Herriman would allow boundary changes that would trickle down to West Jordan, Riverton and South Jordan areas that will not be getting new schools, but McKenna said she thinks the Herriman population will be too large for boundaries to shift much in the way of helping west Jordan. 

Ellen McDonald, who lives “as far west as you can get” in West Jordan, said she’s in favor of the bond. 

“I know people are really tough on this because they don’t want to pay for something isn’t there’s, but they are part of the district, and you can’t help only your little area of a district,” said McDonald, who taught school for 41 years—28 of those years in the Jordan School District. “People in West Jordan didn’t pay for West Jordan schools alone. People all over the district helped pay for the schools that are in West Jordan right now, so if you are going to be part of the district you need to help even if this time around the bond may not affect you personally.” 

There’s a number of improvement and maintenance projects that could be put into place in cities that are not getting new schools if the bond passes, Pulsipher said. These projects could include additional stadium seating and locker room renovation in Bingham High School, lighting upgrades and a new baseball field at West Jordan High School, a cafeteria expansion and roof replacement at Riverton High School and a commons area upgrade, outdoor bathrooms and a weight room expansion for Copper Hills High School. Overall there are 32 projects within 21 schools that are on the district’s Capital Outlay Projects Future Recommendations list. 

“If the bond doesn’t pass these likely won’t happen because we will have to put all of the money we’ll get toward new schools,” Pulsipher said. 

After the 2013 bond didn’t pass, the district built two elementary schools from capital reserve, kept 12 elementary schools on a year-round calendar, initiated a pilot modified-traditional schedule program in two schools, changed 15 school boundaries and added portables to highly populated schools.

“We have limited ways to accommodate growth,” Pulsipher said. “The difficulty is they are not ideal.” 

If the bond does not pass, the district will continue to install more portables, which Pulsipher said creates a strain on schools’ inner infrastructure, such as hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias and media centers. 

“West Jordan has had so much growth in recent years, and I would actually love to see the portables disappear,” said Christie Hardy, a resident whose children attend West Hills and Sunset Hills middle schools. “I was a big supporter of the bond last time, and I will continue to support it this time.”

Pulsipher said another alternative, if the bond didn’t pass, would be looking into “pocket bussing,” where students from a densely populated area would be bused to schools that are further away to avoid crowding. There are six classrooms within the district that aren’t being fully utilized and could be part of this program, she said. 

District officials consider bonds the best option for funding because school districts cannot collect impact fees in Utah. Also, traditional funding has higher interest rates than bonding and pay-as-you-go methods would not allow the district to build schools fast enough to keep up with the growth, Pulsipher said. 

If the bond passed, the district would sell bonds incrementally as construction progressed on the schools. They would be required to pay the bonds off 21 years from the date they were sold, according to the ballot. The ballot also states that the district would use the entire $245 million bond for the new schools, and would purchase land if there was a remaining balance.

Ballots were sent out at the end of October and must be signed and postmarked by midnight on Nov. 7 or dropped off in person at designated locations on Nov 8.