The Tooele County School District learned that local voters aren’t always willing to pay to build more schools as the $190 million bond proposal was defeated in the Nov. 5 Municipal Election.
What has yet to be learned is exactly why the bond lost after voters have approved every bond proposal over the past two decades totaling millions of dollars for new school construction.
To speculate, did the majority of voters say no because they’re tired of paying to build more schools, or are they unconvinced that some current schools are overcrowded and more dollars are needed to invest in current and anticipated growth?
To speculate more, did most voters in Tooele City vote against the bond after seeing years of property tax hikes — one of the biggest and most recent being Tooele City’s 82% property tax hike in 2018 — and voting just two years ago to increase the school district’s mill levy to give teachers more pay?
Or did the $190 million bond, the biggest yet requested by the school district after a series of bonds for new school construction dating back to 2000, just simply scare most voters to say “no way”?
As reported in last Thursday’s edition, voters rejected the bond proposal by a 58% majority. It was supposed to pay for a new high school at Overlake ($100 million), a new junior high school at Stansbury Park ($50 million), a new elementary school in Grantsville ($30 million), and security upgrades at all current schools ($10 million).
The only precincts where the bond won were in Stansbury Park and Overlake in Tooele City. But curiously, it also won in Dugway. The highest level of voter support was in Overlake and the lowest in Ophir. Also a curiosity, unlike in Stansbury Park and Overlake, the bond lost in every precinct in Grantsville, although the city was slated to get a new elementary school if the bond passed.
Despite why the bond lost, what the school district, teachers and students do next as classroom space gets tighter may reveal just how well Tooele County and its citizens respond to pressure from continuing population growth in Tooele Valley — and the costs and inconveniences that growth will bear.
But it appears school district officials aren’t wasting time licking their wounds after what has to be a sobering loss after years of voter support for new school construction. In Thursday’s story on the bond, school district Superintendent Scott Rogers summarized what may happen next.
“The need hasn’t changed,” he said. “The additional students aren’t going to go away. They are going to continue to come. We’re going to have to be creative and find ways to still be excellent in what we offer kids, and fit more kids into our existing buildings.”
When will the school district ask voters to back another bond for new schools is unknown. But School Board president Maresa Manzione offered this: “It will depend on growth. It could be for more schools, and if building costs go up as projected, it could cost us more.”
Meanwhile, the school district will indeed have to be “creative” to find ways to fit more students into classrooms. It won’t be an easy task.