Jordan and Canyons butt heads over equalization bill

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When the Jordan School District split goes live this summer, schools on the east side will have a richer property tax base to tap into than schools on the west side.

Seeking to remedy this imbalance, the Jordan School Board -- representing west side schools -- unanimously endorsed legislation Tuesday that would require the "equalization" of property tax revenue within a district before it splits.

Sponsored by West Jordan Republican Rep. Jim Bird, HB155 would not stop the split, but could complicate matters for the arbitration panel tasked with the divvying of Jordan's assets.

The measure also promises to prolong an already costly and contentious divorce with the new east side Canyons District.

Canyons School Board leaders Wednesday issued their own statement opposing HB155, which would result in a property tax shift to Jordan of $16.4 million in 2010 and another $17.3 million in 2011.

Losing that money, coupled with the threat of statewide budget cuts and the $3.2 million that Canyons District taxpayers are already paying as part of a county-wide plan to equalize school funding, could directly impact classrooms, said Canyons Board President Tracy Cowdell and Vice President Sherril Taylor in combined statement.

The Canyons board has put together a capital facilities plan, including seismic and fire safety upgrades, that will likely cost about $400 million. On top of that, East side residents are on the hook for 57 percent of a pre-existing $282 million Jordan school construction bond.

"We're worried children and programs will be hurt. We don't think anyone really wants that," the Canyons statement reads. "If the aim is to do what's best for all kids, we don't believe this bill does that."

Jordan officials contend, however, that Canyons is flush with revenue.

Now, and for the foreseeable future, the value of residential and commercial property is significantly higher in the Canyons district than in the remainder of Jordan.

As a result, Jordan will have 41 percent less funding per student than Canyons, say Jordan Board members. Also Jordan is growing, whereas Canyons enrollment is flat, potentially forcing the Jordan board to levy a property tax increase.

"We have a lot more children and a lot less money," explained Jordan board member J. Dale Christensen.

Jordan Board member Peggy Jo Kennet said HB155 not only benefits Jordan, but any other district contemplating a split. She hopes city officials in the district's boundaries of Herriman, Bluffdale, South Jordan, Riverton and West Jordan also endorse the bill.

East-side residents voted in 2007 to leave Jordan District and form their own district. The split becomes official in July.