Commissioners to review plan to split Alpine District

Schools: County officials must decide whether the issue goes on the ballot By Mike Cronin The Salt Lake Tribune
This is an archived article that was published on in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A report laying out pros and cons of dividing the Alpine School District in two - along with a committee's recommendation not to do it - will go to the Utah County Commission on Tuesday.

The commission ultimately must decide whether to place the issue before voters in November. Proponents of carving out a new district from the state's fourth largest - it has 51,000 students and covers most of northern Utah County - say residents would gain more local control over their children's education.

The proposed Pioneer School District would comprise the communities of Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain.

Opponents say the action would increase costs and possibly cause job losses.

Residents have 45 days from Tuesday to submit comments to county commissioners. Then, the three-member commission will decide whether to put the question before voters.

County Commissioner Gary Herbert said he is torn, and wants to hear "different points of view. Some who are against the idea still feel that the debate is important enough that it should be put on the ballot,” he said.

Herbert says voters should have a voice, because petitioners collected enough signatures, and supporters of the split compelled the creation of the committee to study the issue.

If Pioneer becomes a reality, it would follow Lehi High School's existing boundaries and serve 8,000 students - roughly equivalent in size to the Iron County School District in Cedar City.

David Cox, a Republican state representative from Lehi, was the lone committee vote in support of a Pioneer district, and member Robert Smith abstained from Wednesday's 5-1 vote. As an Alpine assistant superintendent and business administrator, he wanted to remain neutral, said committee Chairman Gaylord Swim.

Cox and other petitioners have argued that the fast-growing Alpine schools are bursting at the seams, and that smaller school districts are more efficient and do a better job educating students.

Alpine District resident Wendy Shoop said she supports creating the Pioneer School District because parents would have more say in day-to-day school operations. With fewer constituents per school board member, individual voices would hold more sway.

“Parents are the ones paying for education,” she said. That responsibility should enable parents to decide such things as school schedules and curriculum.

Swim acknowledged that Shoop's reasoning was legitimate, but opponents' concerns that smaller budgets would reduce school programs and that property owners may face tax increases were equally credible.

Shoop warned that the idea of two districts will not go away.

“People are passionate about this issue,” she said. “There is still going to be 20 percent of Alpine residents dissatisfied with the job Alpine is doing. We should be given a voice.”