"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jan. 25, 2011: Orem City Council Meeting and Jan. 27, 2011: Investment Committee Meeting

Orem City Council

Tuesday, Jan. 25, most of the board, the superintendent, and business office, met with the mayor, some staff, and members of the Orem City Council.  I was told the reason for the meeting was to develop relationships and to address common issues.  The Vineyard URA was discussed.  We presented our side of it.  Some members of the Orem side were supportive but felt they couldn't say much.  One member is the listing agent for the property and felt ASD should have communicated with Vineyard more about this issue.  Some board members mentioned that they had brought this to Orem's attention more than a year ago, and ASD was in discussions with Vineyard all the while.

My Take:

The ASD Board meets with Orem City every other month for lunch.  It has been suggested meeting with Lehi City on a regular basis, as well.  I think it is good to get know people with whom you will have dealings, but I will be asking about getting to know those in the rest of the cities we represent.  I understand the district hosts an annual luncheon with all the city -related staff/elected officers from all the cities in its boundaries.  ASD also schedules additional meetings with individual cities when major issues (e.g. construction projects) take place.  It was suggested to me (by one of you) that multiple, smaller annual luncheons take place with two or three cities involved in each one.  I am going to propose this.  

Investment Committee:

Today, I was able to phone in on the Investment Committee meeting.  (I've been ill, so I didn't want to share.)  Most of the committee meetings are district staff meetings with the superintendent and/or other staff.  Some of the Board are assigned/invited to attend to keep up with the doings of the district.  I am unsure how much of this is public (I assume all of it, since it's money), but until I find out, I will refrain from commenting further.  Suffice it to say that the board has approved an investment policy, and the current actions of the investment committee are following that policy.  There was a suggestion to adjust the investment policy.  That will be prepared by the district staff, and submitted to the Board for approval.  I agree with this suggestion, and since it will be approved in an open Board Meeting, you'll get more information on it later.

Jan. 25, 2011 Work Session and Board Meeting

Work Session: Bond Survey

The district is going to survey about 600 residents on the bond.  Some of the questions are to inform the residents and some are to inform the district.  The survey will:

  1. Test the pulse of the district
  2. Be a report card for the district
  3. Test the dollar amount for the bond
  4. Test the reasons for and against the bond
Included in the survey are options to deal with the growth (about 12,000 more students) if we do not bond. Two of those present had been involved in double-sessions at a Junior High in 1962 in the district and found it a less than pleasant experience.  Some board members were concerned that double-sessions would lead to kids going to school in the dark and others coming home in the dark.  There are also concerns about with so many kids in limited spaces, there will be a reduction in what programs each student may be able to take.

I asked about building smaller facilities.  The concern is schools are required, by law, to be community centers.  So, there are equity issues involved in building less in one area of the district than in other areas of the district.  When Lehi JH was planned, it came without an auditorium.  Evidently, there were complaints, and the auditorium was added.

The survey company has counseled us to do property owners, not just registered voters.  The board can decide to do whatever it likes.  The cost is roughly $8K.

The current bond numbers are a total of $210M to build 4 elementary schools, and 1 junior high.  It will also allow for major improvements/renovations in some older schools (e.g. AF, PG, etc.), and additional work on seismic and other maintenance issues on other schools in the district.  It is assumed the property taxes on the average home (230K) will increase $12-$15/year.

A seismic survey was professionally done a few years back.  There is a list of specific schools and specific improvements that need to be done.  We can do it all, but not as fast as we would like.  The bond should assist with completing this work faster.

The state used to provide about $8M/year in capital funds.  Four years ago, ASD received $16M in capital funds.  Last year, it was less than $1M.  We do not budget any state monies for capital improvements anymore.

We could use existing capital reserves to build the junior high, but there would be no money left in the reserve account for any of the other schools to have capital expenditures (e.g. buses, computers)

The average costs to build are as follows.

  1. Elementary: $10M
  2. Junior High: $30M (180K sq ft)
  3. High School: $55M (349K sq ft)

The Board will have Board Training on Monday, Jan. 31.  We will review the Code of Conduct.  This is our opportunity to determine how board members will do business with each other.  We will also establish goals and a direction, both by reviewing previous goals, and then setting our own.

My Take: Bond Survey

I think it is fine to survey people on the bond.  It is preferable to find out now if there's any support for it before time and money are spent on promoting it, if the people are not in favor of it.  I am still on the fence about the bond.  The reduction in capital monies from the state was interesting.  I would appreciate any suggestions and comments on how to accommodate additional students in the next 5 years.  I think any and all ideas should be considered.  

Board Meeting at Oak Canyon JH

Six people were given awards by the Alpine Foundation, and the Student Council and their teacher were recognized as well.

The PTSA has 600 members (parents and students) and have enjoyed many activities including 22 of 31 Reflections entries being selected to go on to higher levels.  They also sponsored Freedom Week to help students appreciate the freedoms they have and the price that was paid to maintain them.  It culminated in a Veteran's Day Assembly with Veteran speakers and a very powerful slide show.

The SCC is responsible for allocating Trust Lands' money to different programs.  They struggle over how to spread the money over the entire school.  They spent money on
1) Read 180 for struggling kids
2) Providing AP Course that go beyond Honors Courses
3) MyAccess program for online writing.  This used to be funded by the district, but is not any longer.

The principal spoke of their theme: Together We Learn for Life.  He is proud to be part of a district with a collaborative process that focuses on student learning.  They went through an accreditation process that was good for finding out where they were strong and where they were weak.  Their mission is to ensure student success through 1) collaboration, 2) data analysis, and 3) collective inquiry.

Community Comments:

One parent spoke about the lack of busing for one development by the new elementary in Saratoga Springs.  Their children will need to cross Redwood Road to get to school.  She appreciates the funding concerns, but wants to make sure the kids are safe.  The superintendent and the 2 assistant superintendents have been discussing this.  They assured her, they are looking at options and will get back to her on the issue.  The legislature reimburses busing costs where communities are 1.5 miles or more away from the school.  Otherwise, the school or district must come up with this cost on their own.

Another parent was concerned with the lack of communication to the parents after the gun incident at Westlake High.  The Superintendent indicated that they did not handle the communication well.  (Everyone agreed that the actual incident was handled superbly.)  As a district, we are revising our procedures to communicate with parents in a more timely fashion on issues such as these.

Action Item:

Boundaries for the two new elementary schools in Saratoga Springs were approved.

Board Committee Reports

Friday, Jan. 28, the board is invited to the USBA (Utah School Boards Association) Day on the Hill at the Capitol Building.  There will be USBA meetings and a chance to meet with the legislators.  I will be going.

A closed session was held to discuss personnel and property issues.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why Your Property Taxes are Going Up: Vineyard URA

If you live in the Alpine School District, your property taxes are going to go up. Due to the recent passage of the Vineyard Urban Redevelopment Agency (URA) project, the county will automatically adjust the tax rates and increase your property taxes and mine. The question was whether a commercial entity should receive tax breaks for the next 35 years in exchange for developing a blighted property.  This may be a good idea for the people of Vineyard, the developer and, possibly, the state of Utah, but it is a bad idea for the taxpayers of ASD. 

First, let me give you some background.  There are two types of development projects CDA's (Community Development Agencies, like Adobe or Micron) and URA's (like Geneva).  The main difference is a URA must develop a blighted area; whereas, a CDA does not.  A URA allows a development group to not pay their normal tax rate (above a certain threshhold, for a specific time period) and instead use that money to develop their property.  A committee (TEC) of all the taxing entities (City, County, School District, State Office of Education, etc.) is formed, and must agree to the proposal by a 2/3 majority.  In theory, we give tax breaks to a development group to improve an area in the short term, with an increase in taxable value and community and economic improvement as the long-term gain.

The Vineyard URA comprises the former Geneva Steel property.  It includes areas that are contaminated and structures that would be costly to remove.  The developer has said without the URA monies, they would simply have to fence about 700 contaminated acres and leave it alone.  Some local legislators feel that without this money, we would have a big eyesore for decades.  The developers and city of Vineyard agree. But it is a gamble as to whether or not, in 35 years, that property would be developed.  In short, is this a necessary process to clean-up the former Geneva property, and allow everyone to eventually benefit? 

Whenever I am faced with a decision, I try to decide which principles apply.  For me, government has no place picking winners and losers in commercial activities. Some people's politics may allow for government to be involved in commercial development.  Mine, do not.  If we give tax breaks to one group of taxpayers, why not to all the taxpayers? Having said that, we are forced, by law, to be involved.  So, from a pragmatic point of view, I need to find the best benefit I can to both the schools of the district and to you, the taxpayers.

Here's how it works.  Let's assume the property is worth $1 million and ASD gets 1% in property taxes, or $10,000/year.  With the URA, ASD will still get their 1% every year of the URA from the developer. But if in 2 years, the property value increases to $10 million, ASD gets $10,000 but the developer retains $90,000 to reinvest in development of the property, and so on.  At the end of the URA period, say the property is worth $1 Billion, then ASD would get their 1% or $10 Million.  Every year after that, the property is treated the same as any other property for tax purposes. 

The school board felt this URA was a bad idea for the following reasons. (Read the official response here.)

First, the state legislature mandated that instead of using current property value, the URA had to use the property value from 2006.  Why is that important? Because the Geneva property value has gone up. By using the 2006 value, the legislature gave this developer a greater tax break.  The consequence is that everybody else in the Alpine School District must now pay higher taxes to make up the difference. We were told that part of the reason for the 2006 base year was to allow the developer to have 'seed money' for the development.  If the base year were not set by law to 2006, there would be no additional burden on the taxpayers.  It would just be additional revenues that would be forfeited.

Second, 35 years is a long time.  No one can predict what will occur over the next 35 years.  ASD is  growing and has needs right now. Do we honestly think the greatest demand for that property's revenue won't be for 35 years in the future?  Children who are being born now, will have graduated from ASD schools, and be sending their kids to those same schools before the benefit of this project will appear.  It is projected that ASD will lose a total of $200M in revenue over the 35 years.  A Daily Herald article says ASD will receive $16 million/year from the Geneva site after the 35 years.  $200 M lost / $16 M year = 12 years to make up the lost revenue after year 35.

Third, the URA includes residential areas.  These residences will have children who will attend school in ASD.  Even though ASD will not receive any funds for those children, ASD will need to accommodate them in district schools.

Finally, ASD had two independent financial consultants and the Utah Taxpayers Association run the numbers.  All three said the total amount, length of time and rollback of the base year prevented them from recommending that ASD sign on to this project. A representative from the Taxpayers Association said it would cost $150 million to remove the blight. This would allow the developer to correct the problem areas, leaving them with usable property. Remember, the URA was for $300 million. The tax payers are financing $150 million of the actual development instead of simply making the property usable.   (For a good article on reclaiming the blight, but not subsidizing the development, go here.)

ASD's two members on the TEC voted against the URA.  The two reps from Vineyard City, one of two from Utah County (one didn't show), one from the Utah State Board of Education, and the member representing all the other misc taxing agencies voted in favor of the proposal.  As such, ASD's taxpayers are obligated to go along.  (Incidentally, an article in the Daily Herald incorrectly implied ASD was in favor of the proposal.)

If you agree this is a good proposal, then you need to do nothing.  If you disagree, you need to contact your legislators and share this information with your neighbors.

From the legislation, it appears that a resident of Vineyard City can appeal this URA decision.  Do you know anyone who lives in Vineyard City?  I think this decision should be appealed.

Also, there is proposed legislation this session rolling back the URA/CDA approval process from 2/3 majority to a simple majority.  This bill would result in even more unfair situations similar to the Geneva property. ASD would be forced to participate in more URAs at the additional cost burden to the average resident.  I would recommend you contact your legislators to oppose this legislation.  They need to understand the current situation in which you can be taxed without your consent and without an appeals process.

To me this is a case of government redistributing your tax dollars. ASD, or rather you and I and our schools, will be on the hook for many of the 'tax breaks' over this period of time.  My question to you is "Will it be worth it?"

*Sen. Curt Bramble, a proponent of this project, authored legislation that changed how CDA's and URA's operated. For the most part, I agree with the legislation. It changed the approval process from a simple majority to a 2/3 majority and gave the school districts more autonomy and say.  It also greatly limited the definition of a blighted area. In the past, a broken fence or a dead tree limb could be construed as blight. For a URA, all taxing entities must participate. For a CDA, taxing entities must opt in to participate (Rep. John Dougall's legislation); they are excluded by default from CDA projects.  What I disagree with is additional legislation (Bramble) setting the base tax year for this particular project to 2006 (one year after the site was acquired).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jan. 25, 2011 Board Meeting Agenda: Oak Canyon Jr High


111 SOUTH 725 EAST



4:00 P.M.

A study session will be held prior to the regular board meting. The purpose of the study session

will be to receive a report from the Bond Committee, particularly in regards to a proposed survey

to patrons, and to discuss other current issues.


6:00 P.M.


PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE Debbie Taylor, Board President








1. Approval of the Boundaries for the Two Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent

New Elementary Schools in Saratoga Springs




Jan. 11, 2011 Board Meeting

Work Session:

The Vineyard URA was discussed. The board was opposed to the proposal, and instructed its representatives, Guy Fugal and Rob Smith, to vote against the URA at the Taxing Entity Committee meeting on 1/18/2011. They did as instructed, but the URA passed anyway. More on this in an upcoming post.

Board Meeting:

Community Comments:

Kids’ Cause, a non-profit, charitable organization, presented awards. Kids’ Cause receives voluntary payroll deductions from school employees and donations from private and corporate individuals to provide clothing and other items for needy school kids.

4 representatives from Cascade Elementary came to discuss the needs of the school. They realize there is a process for determining which schools and which needs will be addressed by the proposed bond, but they wanted to take the time and present the information in person.

2 additional patrons commented on the great work and atmosphere of the district. One, in particular, wanted to make sure that, even though we should hear the voices of those who think there are problems in the district, there are many who are pleased and happy and won’t be contacting us to say they are pleased and happy. She wanted to make sure that we listened to all the voices, but then stepped out in a united front to support our schools.

Claims: The claims are the expenditures for the past month that are approved by the board. The report was 373 pages, and I reviewed as much as I was able. The superintendent was willing to spend time going over and investigating some of the expenses for me. However, due to a lack of good understanding, both myself and fellow board member, Paula Hill, abstained from voting to approve the claims. I will be working to get a better understanding of how to manage these expenditures and would welcome your efforts, as they are posted on the district website several days prior to the board meeting. All expenses require approval of supervisors, and anything above $5000 requires cabinet (high-level district administration) approval. Anything above $10,000 requires board action to approve.

Routine Business was approved.

Discussion Items:

School Boundaries: There are 2 new elementary schools going in near Harvest and Saratoga Shores. The boundaries were displayed, and will be voted on by the board on Jan. 25, 2011. Please contact me with your feedback.

Membership Report: This report compares the Oct. 1 enrollment with Dec. 31 enrollment. ‘Membership’ is a term to describe kids who are enrolled. If you are only enrolled ½ time, then you count as ½ a person in terms of membership. If you move out of the area after ¾ year, then you are ¾ of a person for the yearly membership totals. Membership is used to determine funding from the state and project student population growth. There was a net increase of 81 students from Oct to Dec. There were 22 at Deerfield, which is out of the ordinary.

Board Member Reports: The board attended the Utah School Board Association (USBA) Convention (more on that in a subsequent blog post) Jan. 6 -8, 2011 in Salt Lake. This convention had a 98% attendance rate in Utah, which is unheard of nationally. Most board members attended the Open Meeting Law presentation as required by state law. Board President, Debbie Taylor, noted who had attended and who still needed to attend. She is responsible for declaring to the state that all board members have been properly trained on this topic every year. The meetings with legislators were very informative. Many attended the classes on Professional Learning Communities.

Adjourned for Closed Session

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jan. 11, 2011 Board Meeting Agenda


4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to review the Vineyard URA and share information

from the Utah School Boards Association Convention.


6:00 P.M.

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE Debbie Taylor, Board President





CLAIMS DECEMBER Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent


1. Budget Report Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent

2. Personnel Reports “

3. Alpine Foundation Report “

4. Student Releases - JA, LB, HD, DE, JG “

AJ, CM, JR, JR, JR, DS, NT, SW “

5. Student Expulsions - QN, BW, BW “

6. Property Items “

A. Easement in Vineyard

B. Easement in Saratoga Springs

C. Property Transfer of Old Cedar Fort School


1. Boundary Proposals for Two New Elementary Schools


1. Membership Report Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent




Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dec. 14, 2010 Board Meeting and Jan. 4, 2011 Superintendent's Meeting

Board Meeting: 12/14/2010

For information on the Work Session that occurred prior to the Board Meeting, please read part1 and part2.

Public Comments:
One woman came to comment on the $2M bonus given to all district employees.  She wanted to make sure that everyone knew that she has been pleased and supportive of the schools and the school district, but she felt she needed to make a comment ever since she found out about the bonus.  Her concerns were:
  • If there was money left over (1.5%) at the end of the fiscal year, why wasn't it saved for a rainy day fund?  It bothers her that everyone else is cutting back and this money was spent in difficult times.
  • Basics need to be taught.  How many teachers or aids could have been hired?
  • She sees some extravagant spending.  She likes extra-curricular activities, but, for example, drama productions--which she very much enjoys--have elaborate costumes and back drops.  They do an excellent job, but she would like more focus on the basics. 
  • The basics must come first. Taxpayers are happy to pay for basics but not for "extras".
  • Overall, why was $2M used in these tough times?
A group from Greenwood Elementary appeared to thank Board Member, Tim Osborn for his service and his work with them.

Recognition of Out-going Board Members:
Each out-going board member and their families were recognized and given a small gift.  They got time to share their thoughts.  I especially appreciated the comments of my predecessor, Chrissy Hanneman.  She said that a mayor in Hawaii used to say that a prophet said,  "When you are serving your fellow man, you are serving God."  She said she really felt that was what serving on the board was about...serving others.  She felt her family was benefitted in many intangible ways, despite the time required from her. She said this, specifically, to me, and I really appreciated it. 

Personally, I would like to thank Chrissy, Donna, and Tim for their years of service--the time, the energy, and the personal sacrifice.  I have big shoes to fill. 

Education Jobs Program:
This is the money that the Feds gave to the state and the school districts.  There needs to be specific approval of the use of the money by Board Action.

ACT Pilot Program:
The State is going to cover the cost of the ACT test for all students (juniors) this year ($33/student).  They will also pay $8 or $10 fee for the PLAN test (10th grade) and the Explore test (9th grade).  The goal is that by encouraging more students to take the ACT, we hope to increase the number of students who pursue a post-secondary education and vocational training.  ACT Prep classes are offered at all High Schools (during the day and after shool options).  It is hoped that the state will continue to implement this program in subsequent years as well. 

Claims and Routine Business Items:
The Claims were approved by the Board, as were the routine business items.  These items are available on the ASD Board Website several days prior to a board meeting.  They can be downloaded and reviewed by the public.  The most difficult thing for me is the claims report.  The one from December is over 300 pages long.  There is a set of summary pages, and then all of the detail.  I would certainly appreciate any help in reviewing this information.  The Routine Business Items have been discussed in prior Work Sessions and Board Meetings (in the Discussion Items part of the Board Meeting).  

Closed Session:
We then held a closed session.  I found it interesting that the closed session beginning and ending times were noted, and an audio recording of all but the personnel/student issues was kept.  I assume this is due to state statute.

Committee Discussion:
After the closed session, we discussed the proposed committee assignments.  These assignments will be voted on at the Jan. 11, 2010 Board Meeting. 

End of Board Meeting for 12/14/2010

This Week:

1/4/2011: Superintendent's Meeting
Today, I attended my first Superintendent's Meeting at Suncrest Elementary in Orem.  Three Board Members meet once a week (on a rotating basis) with the Superintendent at one of the district schools.  We get information about the current goings-on of the district and items of interest.  Then we recognize an outstanding team from the school, as recommended by the principal, and take a tour of the school.  I think it is good for getting to know the principals, some of the staff, and the individual schools. 

In discussing the Bond, I would like to outline the procedure for what items will be included in the bond. 
1. Principals and maintenance staff determine what items they are recommending for inclusion in the bond.
2. The principals also meet with the PTA's and SCC's to get information from them on school needs.
3. The principals then meet with the district staff members about these items.
4. The staff, including the Bond Committee, put together a proposal.
5. This proposal is then sent back to the PTA's and SCC's for more feedback.

Oath of Office: 1/4/2011
Tonight, I will be taking the Oath of Office, along with my fellow, newly-elected board members.

Orem City Council Meeting: 1/5/2011
The Board meets with the Orem City Council about once every other month. This is scheduled for tomorrow.  I will write up what I can in a future blog post.

USBA State Convention: 1/6-8/2011
This convention takes place at the Little America Hotel, in Salt Lake City.  It is starts Thursday evening, and goes through Saturday, afternoon.  I will write up my experiences in an upcoming post.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dec. 14, 2010 Work Session, Part II: School Grades, SCC Mission Statement, Bond

Work Session, Continued

In this post, I will discuss the remaining items from the work session on Dec. 14, 2010:

  1. Proposed Idea of Grading Schools 
  2. School Community Council (SCC) discussion on the Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals and Bond
  3. More information on the proposed bond
Grading Schools

The legislature is considering a proposal to give public schools a grade, e.g. A-F. In light of that information, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) is proposing their own grading system. Some of the items they would like to include for grading would be attendance, graduation rates, ACT participation/performance rates, students reading on grade level, # of credits that a student is prepared for in Jr. High to High School, safe school data, course taking information, enrollment demographics, subgroup performances. (I assume by subgroup, it is demographics, advanced placement, etc. but I will get clarification on this.) The USOE’s proposal contains a broad spectrum of criteria for grading (and it may be that each school will be given multiple grades, one for each area, instead of just a single, overall grade. The superintendent would prefer the broader, more comprehensive grading system.

My Take: Grading Schools
I think this is a popular idea. Parents want to know how their kids’ schools compare, where they are strong and where they are weak. However, like all things, the devil is in the details. The difficulty in all of this is assigning a grading system based on reliable criteria. In our lives, we grade our vendors every day, by patronizing their establishments. If the plumber does a good job for me, I call him back again, I pay him a tip, and I recommend him to my neighbors. If he doesn’t, I don’t call him again, and he may go out of business. With a government entity, like schools, we haven’t found a way to determine the best way of rating schools. They get the same number of dollars whether we approve or disapprove. While it is difficult to do, I think it still has merit. I would welcome everyone’s comments on how best to do this. Along those lines, I have heard (not during this work session), that ASD is looking at doing some sort of merit pay for teachers as well. Again, please let me know how you would go about determining teacher performance as well as school performance.

SCC Meetings on MVVG (Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals)

In order to consolidate all the data collected from the meetings throughout the district, the PR Committee instructed the staff to summarize the notes from each meeting. In doing so, the result was a chart of those who supported the mission statement, those who would like to see it “tweaked” or changed, and those who would like to drop it entirely and start all over. There were a few comments listed to the side in the summary. It was stated that there were 614 participants across the district, 30 who wanted to change the mission statement in some way, and only 9 who wanted it completely dropped. 8 of the 9 were at one meeting (Mountain View). The documentation was emailed to me the day after the work session.

My Take: SCC Meetings on MVVG and Bond

While I find it commendable to get community feedback, especially on an issue generating quite a bit of discussion, I am concerned with the way this was done. In the interest of full disclosure, I am opposed to the mission statement: “Educating all children to ensure the future of our democracy”. See my comments here and here. Let me share my concerns with this process, and make a few recommendations.

First, the School Community Council meetings seem to make sense for a local, community-input, kind of meeting. However, most people in the community are not aware of the SCC’s or of their role in ASD of being a ‘sounding board’ for district issues. Until I started running for school board, I had a vague notion of the SCC’s, and did attend one (and tried to attend another but was turned away) when we were discussing the math program (to replace Investigations). I was not aware of their use on a district level for feedback and input. In addition, SCC elections are not well publicized. The candidates are listed with only their name (no platform, no website, no information), and many people I spoke with during the campaign had never heard of them. So, while the SCC is valuable in getting feedback from those on the council, it is not representative of the parents at the school, and certainly not of the community at large.

Second, these particular SCC meetings, at least at my school, were held outside the normally scheduled time.  I received a note from one of my consituents letting me know that he attends all the SCC meetings for our school, and the MVVG was never discussed.  Well, anyone who regularly attended the SCC meetings could have easily missed this meeting.  The district scheduled these meetings, and, it's quite possible, the SCC was given this information after their previous meeting.  It was also held, at least in my case, at 10am, which doesn't bode well for attendance--especially from working parents. To my school's credit, I received an email about it perhaps 4 or 5 days in advance.  Because of these things, I would have to say that the deck was stacked against the average parent attending those meetings.  Further, how would someone without kids at the school find out about the meeting?

Third, it is common knowledge that how you ask a question, oftentimes, dictates the response.  To correctly interpret polls, one must know both the statistical results and how the questions where asked (the methodology).  From my SCC experience, we were told that the meeting was there for the district representatives to be able to explain their position on the mission statement.  We were told that it was not a forum for debate.  Given this, there aren't many people who are going to see this as a real opportunity for input.  You are there to respectfully listen. 

Fourth, how does one determine how many people wanted to change or drop the mission statement without explicitly asking?  Most people, if their concerns are appropriately expressed, will not reiterate them.  So, if one person stated concerns that were shared by those in the audience, how do we know which audience members also agreed, since they didn't speak up?  Also, because of my candidacy, my husband and I felt it wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment.  As such, our silence was counted as support.  The summary sheet, in addition to the school name, shows three tally columns and a comments field.  The columns are: # attending, change mission statement, and drop mission statement. In seeing this, I had a hard time understanding the distinction between changing and dropping the mission statement.  However, the numbers in those columns were subjectively derived from the comments noted by the administrators at those meetings.  Here is a sample comment: "I want our children to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and history. No vision of our society..."  Is this a change (tweak) comment or a drop comment?  What are the criteria?  The only accurate way to tally this information would be to take a vote at some point in the meeting, clearly defining what is meant by change or drop.  To imply otherwise is completely inaccurate and not the least bit factual. 

In short, this issue needs to be laid to rest, not by force of will, but by having an open debate.  As we were told, the SCC meetings were not a forum for a debate.  But why shouldn't there be one?  Additionally, we need to find a good method of communicating to everyone in the community about public meetings, and inviting all comers, not just those who have kids at the district schools, to comment on broad, directional things, like the district's mission statement.  For all the talk about democracy, this report shows that the district does not want to hear the voice of all the people on this issue.  If they do, they need to find a more effective way.

I was told the new board will be addressing the mission statement.  I am unsure as to when.  If we can't agree on a mission statement that will be acceptable to all, then we need to have a well-publicized, open hearing to actually have the debate on this issue.  If we want to go so far as to have a vote, then so be it.  But, I feel we are getting caught up in this issue, and it is distracting us from our main goal of educating our children for whatever purpose they (and their families), not the district, choose.


There are 3 corners of the triangle that are used in determining whether to bond and the amount.  They are Growth (# of students to be served), Capital (amount of capital expenditures required), Tax Rates (how the bond will affect you and me).  The bond committee will reconvene in January to make recommendations.  The work session was to look at alternatives to bonding.  Obviously, if there is no debt, the tax rate goes down.  If the bond is for $150 million, the tax rate should stay flat.  (The reason for this is that a previous bond is expiring, so this bond would just take its place.)  If the bond is for $240 million, there would be a significant impact to the taxpayers.  The district is proposing around $200 million, which would be a slight increase.  In January (this month), the principals and maintenance people will meet to determine a list of capital projects (major projects where the 'useful life' is greater than one year) that are needed. 

Here are some proposed options.

1.) Don't bond now, but delay a year.  This is possible.  It would require buying more portables and satellites with restrooms for the additional student populations.  The challenge would be the junior high.  We could delay the bond a year, and build the junior high with current reserve funds. 

Here's what that would look like.

There is currently $18 Million in the Capital Fund.  We usually get $10 - 11 Million in Capital funds each year.  So, if a junior high costs roughly $53 Million, we could take $7 Million from the Capital fund every year for the next 5 years ($35M + $18M reserves).  We would start with $25M ($18M in reserves plus $7M of the $10 or 11 we will receive the first year), and build over 2 years.  However, in the last 2 years, we have only received $4M/year, and it takes $3M/year for our technology and transporation costs.  So, depending on the capital budget we receive from the state, may not be an option.  Also, we would then have no reserve funds. 

2.) Wait more than a year for the bond.  The concern is the central facilities (gyms, hallways, cafeterias, science, business, and CTE labs) at Vista Heights, Hidden Hollow and Westlake may not be able to accommodate the growth.  With 1400-1500 kids at Hidden Hollow and 2300-2500 at Vista Heights, it's do-able for a year or so, but you do need a plan to divide that many. 

At the conclusion of this presentation, each current and prospective board member was asked to comment.  Here are some of the comments that I noted.

Concern for where a satellite could be located at Hidden Hollow.  It was stated that the citizens of Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs are very supportive of the bond. 

With the concern over the central facilities and over-crowding, it may require doing a double-session.  (I understood this to mean, 2 sessions of students, one morning and one afternoon.)  A couple of board members said that a double-session isn't in the best interest of kids--one from personal experience growing up. 

In the A2 area (Alpine, Highland, Cedar Hills, and parts of Lehi), there is not a lot of call for capital expenditures.  The only capital concerns were the seismic ones at Alpine Elementary.

My comment was that I didn't have enough information to make a statement on the bond.  Everyone else, seemed to indicate support for the bond. 

My Take: Bond

Based on the numbers given to me, the bond seems like a no-brainer.  The projected student population is expected to be in the neighborhood of 78,000 in the next 5 years.  (Currently, we have 66,000.)  There are 4 schools that are 50 years old and require capital improvements (suggested repair amount $100M).  Also, according to the last work session, the bond should increase property taxes on the average home ($230,000) $15/year.  One bond is being retired at the same time this new bond would be "coming online".  Taking on new debt (200 million) as we retire old debt adds a total of 50 million to the overall number. I don't like new debt.  But the numbers, as presented, indicate a need for the investment.

However, where it is the district's role to suggest to the board what they would recommend, it is the board's job to get all the information from multiple sources, filter through it, and give the direction to the district.  At this point, I have not done any independent research or analysis, and I am still learning about the way our property tax system works in Utah.  I have received a few comments from you, the taxpayers, but would like to receive more.  Most especially, how would you propose to handle roughly 10,000 additional students in the next 5 years and the costs associated with maintaining 50-year-old buildings?

Up Next (only 1 more post to get through Dec. 14, 2010):
The actual Board Meeting