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UPDATED: Alpine School District board votes to study split options, a first step in possible reconfiguration

By Carlene Coombs and Curtis Booker - | Apr 30, 2024

Nichole Whiteley, Daily Herald file photo

The Alpine School District Board of Education listens to a presentation of recommendations based on a study of the district's Advanced Learning Labs and Dual Language Immersion programs given by Analis Ruiz at a board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

The Alpine School District Board of Education voted Tuesday to study two different reconfiguration options for the district before the board votes in July on whether to put a split option on this year’s ballot for a vote.

The board meeting comes a day after several Utah County city councils met to begin their own process of possibly initiating a split independently of the board through creating interlocal agreements among the municipalities.

On Monday, Alpine, American Fork, Cedar Hills, Draper, Highland and Lehi approved an interlocal agreement together to consider forming a district, and Cedar Fort, Eagle Mountain, Fairfield and Saratoga Springs also approved an agreement to study a split.

Those agreements mirror one of the reconfiguration options presented by MGT Education, which conducted a feasibility study at the board’s direction.

On Tuesday, the board voted to submit two options from MGT to the county clerk’s office for certification before a public comment period ensues. After public comment, the board should vote July 12 on whether or not an option will be placed on the ballot for a vote.

One option, which the city councils voted on to study independently, would create three school districts, with Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, Fairfield and Cedar Fort as one; Lehi, American Fork, Highland, Alpine, Cedar Hills and part of Draper in another; and finally, Orem, Vineyard, Lindon and Pleasant Grove as their own.

The other option would be a two-district split. On the east side would be Lehi, American Fork, Alpine, Cedar Hills, Highland, Lindon, Orem, Vineyard, Pleasant Grove and part of Draper, with the west side being Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain, Fairfield and Cedar Fort.

While the board sent options to be certified before the public comment period begins, Superintendent Shane Farnsworth said in the meeting that the board’s opinion is that staying in one district would be the best for all students.

But, he said, through surveys conducted during the feasibility study, residents have indicated they want a split put on the ballot, so they will continue moving forward with studying a split.

The board voted unanimously to study the two-district option but members were mixed on the three-district configuration option.

Board member Julie King said she was concerned that not considering the three-way option would put the district in competition with the municipalities who are studying it on their own.

She added that gathering information on that option also would increase transparency and board preparedness.

“The position later on when we make our vote in July is different than exploring information,” she said.

Mark Clement, who voted against a three-district split, said he believes it would be more beneficial to the public for the district to focus on studying one option, adding that he believed gathering public input on multiple proposals might not be as effective.

“I’m not in favor of putting forth the (three-way split) proposal … first of all, because it did not get as significant support during the MGT study in the surveys we did there,” he said.

Ada Wilson, who also voted against studying the three-district plan, said citizens deserve a process that is “very clear and simple” and cities in the southern part of the district, like Orem, are not getting a voice due to the process undertaken by other municipalities considering a split.

“The problem is that when cities put forward their initiatives, they can self-determine but there are others that cannot participate in that process,” she said. “My city is one that has not entered an interlocal agreement. They are relying on the recommendations and wisdom of the board.”

Currently, 10 of the 14 cities in the Alpine School District have voted in support of entering into interlocal agreements.

On Monday morning and afternoon, Alpine, American Fork, Cedar Hills, Draper and Lehi all held special city council meetings to kickstart the process of exploring agreements. Later that evening, the Highland City Council also voted in favor to join neighboring cities in forming a new district in the central region. Council member Brittany Bills stressed that starting the process has nothing to do with any displeasure with the Alpine School District.

“My kids all have gone to the Alpine School District. They’re still there and have had amazing experiences,” Bills shared before the floor. “I taught in the school district for five years, and I only have positive (things to say), and so this is not anything about the school district and this is not anything about other cities. This is about what’s best for Highland.”

Further west, the cities of Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain and Fairfield held a joint city council meeting to discuss an interlocal agreement between the three municipalities to form their own school district.

It also would include the town of Cedar Fort, which was not represented at the meeting but did express support for joining.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Jim Miller cited growth in the northwestern part of the county as a contributing factor in creating a district that allows for student numbers to increase at a comfortable rate. Additionally, Miller said in speaking with Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson that he recognizes the need to join American Fork, Cedar Hills, Highland and portions of Draper to form their own district.

“We’d be splitting this district again in 10 years. But by creating a central district, that allows us a longer time to grow and meet the needs of residents out here. So I get their (Lehi) decision and support that,” Miller said.

During the public comment period, Saratoga Springs resident Heather Lambert shared her support for the interlocal agreement, saying she feels breaking off into their own district would address inequitable representation on the school board, while meeting the needs of students.

“With a school district as large as it is, it’s very hard to meet all of those needs for each different municipality with the resources that we have,” Lambert said. “And I feel that with this split, and as breaking off into our own district, that we will finally be able to meet the needs of our children out here on the west side and do it equitably.”

The trio of cities passed the resolution to enter into an inter local agreement with unanimous votes.

The Pleasant Grove City Council took a different approach Tuesday evening by not voting to join into an interlocal agreement. One reason was because the city wasn’t included in discussions with other cities in the envisioned central district. Additionally, council members were not interested in pursuing any efforts to form an agreement with the cities to south: Orem, Vineyard and Lindon.

While the Pleasant Grove council seemingly is not in favor of any interlocal agreement, council member Cyd LeMone expressed that breaking off from Lehi, American Fork, Highland and Cedar Hills would not be beneficial for students in Pleasant Grove.

“We just aren’t growing enough here and that’s going to hurt our students being on our own with Orem, Vineyard and Lindon,” she said. “I think we need to be part of that Lehi group, and I am disappointed that we weren’t included in the discussions.”

The city council plans to encourage residents to vote for the two-district split option encompassing cities to the east from Lehi to Orem. It also wants citizens to engage in the school district and public hearing meetings to have a fair say in what happens with students in Pleasant Grove.

If any city councils that join an interlocal agreement to split away decide to put reconfiguration on the ballot, only the residents within the new proposed district can vote on it. If the district puts the option on the ballot, all residents within the district will vote on it.

During Tuesday’s Alpine School District meeting, the board also set a public comment period regarding possible reconfiguration. Once the county clerk certifies the options, the comment period begins May 14, with public hearings to occur June 11 and 25. The board can then meet July 12 to vote on whether a split goes on the ballot.


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