Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Thin is in, especially with school districts. Both Granite School District and Jordan School District (the latter of which covers my area) are facing the possibility of breaking up into tinier pieces, mainly along east/west divides. I'm thankful that the County Council has the good sense to not let the issues move forward this year because the whole thing stinks to high heaven.

A sure-fire way to know that you're getting a bum deal is to watch how the players involved try to get what they want. Witness how east-side cities are trying to craft an electorate that would certainly pass their ill-conceived proposal. Not only are west-side residents being excluded from the process (something that has already been ruled un-Constitutional in Utah thanks to litigation between White City and Sandy), but Alta is also being given the cold shoulder on the vote. Yes, Sandy and Cottonwood Heights want to leave the ski town as an isolated island of the Jordan School District because they know that if the city votes down the proposal, the whole thing sinks. These are not the actions of a group confident in the merits of their proposal.

It's also telling that the financial picture is being heavily manipulated. East-side residents are being told that a split will result in a modest decrease in property taxes for schools, sticking the west-siders to "pay their way" with increases of 25-30%. This picture, however, does not relieve the new school district from satisfying their share of the debt from before the split and it does not estimate the costs for renovating older east-side schools and the potential costs of closing schools as enrollments decrease with graying populations. It's a half-truth designed to appeal to selfishness.

It can be argued that despite this, smaller districts are more responsive and accountable. The school board's hefty pay increase did nothing but throw fuel on that fire. What we have to ask ourselves, however, is if we can't keep the current board accountable, how are we supposed to keep two boards accountable? Why trade one autocrat ten miles away for ten autocrats one mile away? The same people that haven't been going to board meetings, haven't been running in the board elections and haven't been mad enough to do anything to date are just emboldening them further and are unlikely to change these habits.

There's also the economy of scale to be considered. Any organization's efficiency looks a lot like a Bell Curve. If you're too small, many of your staff will be wearing multiple hats instead of being specialists in their fields. If you get too large, the bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the growing bureaucracy. It's hard to determine what the optimum size of a district is before it becomes too big or too small. This is something that needs careful evaluation before any action is taken and has to date been given little attention.

While I generally like the idea of smallish school districts, this split has too much baggage to go through successfully. Hopefully reason will prevail over the next year and we'll wake up to what a bum deal this split really is.

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