Residential and business growth for a rural area can provide a lot of positive and exciting opportunities and outcomes. But there are negative ones, too. Just ask the Tooele County School District.
After nearly 20 years of consistent voter support for new school construction — and millions of dollars in voter-approved bonds to pay for them — the school district learned last November that such majority support had dried up.
That’s when voters rejected, by a 60% margin, a proposed $190 million bond for building a new high school at Overlake, a new junior high school in Stansbury Park, a new elementary school in Grantsville and upgrading security at all existing schools. The rejection came, even though the school district had done an earnest job explaining throughout 2019 why more schools were needed.
After the loss on election night, school board president Maresa Manzione offered a brief response with a few premonitory possibilities: “… The vote does not change the need,” she said. “We will do what we can. It may be uncomfortable and crowded. There may be some boundary and schedule changes.”
And portable classrooms, too.
As reported in last Thursday’s edition, it was announced during the school board’s Feb. 25 work meeting that the school district has bought seven used portable classrooms from the Ogden School District for $91,000. It also acquired two more for free but they will need extensive repairs, according to Superintendent Scott Rogers. Three portable classrooms owned by the school district will also be used.
The portable classrooms will be placed at Stansbury High School, Clarke Johnsen Junior High School, and Grantsville and Willow Elementary schools. Meanwhile, the school district is considering classes, course offerings and schedule changes, plus possible online programs at the high school level that “could take some pressure off,” Rogers said.
All of which are big changes to help alleviate classroom overcrowding. But even bigger ones may come: Manzione said during the Feb. 25 meeting that boundary changes and year-round schooling are being considered.
One could speculate forever as to why voters denied the bond. Were they tired of paying to build more schools, or unconvinced that some current schools are overcrowded? Was it successive years of property tax hikes by Tooele County, or Tooele City’s 82% property tax hike in 2018? How about voting in 2017 to increase the school district’s mill levy to give teachers more pay? Or were voters simply scared by the bond’s amount, the biggest yet requested by the school district?
The school district has some tough decisions to make. How best to accommodate more students without more new schools (at least for now) and without compromising quality public education, won’t be easy.
But at the end of the day, the tougher decisions will fall onto local citizens and taxpayers as they wrestle and respond to continued residential growth in Tooele Valley — and the costs such growth incurs that can only be deferred so long before regrettable consequences take root.
Death and taxes are certainties, as the saying goes. So too is the need to provide schools for students. When it comes to educating our young people, there is no free lunch.