Wasatch School Board heard from around 25 members of the public on Thursday evening providing public comment on the $150 million school bond that will appear on Wasatch County resident ballots this November.
With more than 50 people in attendance at the September 19th meeting the school board heard input from the public for over two hours regarding the $150 million bond which will build a new high school on the northwest side of Heber and replace the current Midway Elementary school.
More than 10 administrators and teachers in the district spoke favorably of the bond, citing smaller class sizes, more opportunities for students, and the need for the schools as benefits to the community. Amongst those employees speaking favorably of the bond was current Wasatch High School Principal Todd Johnson. Johnson praised the building plan for the new high school and the educational value of a smaller school population.
“Following the model of what we’ve seen in Utah in both Cache County and Washington County makes a lot of sense,” Johnson explained. “Having the courage to come forward and keep our schools at about that 1,300/1,400 size which we feel is the best for educating high school students makes a lot of sense.”
Tracy Taylor, President of the Wasatch County Taxpayers Association, was one of about seven members of the public who spoke against the bond. She reported the organization had filed a GRAMA request for the appraisal on the land purchased by the school board for the new high school. She said that request was denied.
“You said its private information because you’re negotiating,” Taylor continued. “You’ve already negotiated the price. It’s up on your website, it’s public information. You supposedly are paying $6.2 million on 50 acres that is $124,000 an acre which is double, if not triple the recent sales in the North Fields. State code says it can be private, unless you have already disclosed the location of the property which there is a map right there showing the location. You told us how much you were paying for it. There’s nothing private about this land right now and you’re citing that as a reason to deny that the public should see this appraisal.”
Superintendent Paul Sweat noted that the deal to acquire the high school land was complex made up of six different parcels and the appraisal of the land hasn’t been released because the deal on the land has not yet closed. Board member Tom Hansen noted that the reason why the price was higher on the property is in part due to the fact that the site, including land around the proposed high school, is currently in process to be annexed into Heber City.
“North Fields right now is one house per 20 acres, this piece of property is not that,” Hansen said. “It will have all kinds of different types of single houses, multi houses, multifamily, industry, commercial. If you have a school in the middle of all of that you’ll have more open space than you would if the developers came in and put multifamily houses or single-family housing.”
The annexation of the property into Heber has not been finalized as of yet. In a July meeting both the annexation petitioner and the Heber City Planning Commission agreed to slow down the process to wait and see what happens with the school bond in November.
Additionally, Taylor says they requested the results of a $33,000 survey conducted by the district to gather community input on the bond. That request was also denied.
“You said oh there were drafts and there is proprietary information that the public can’t have,” Taylor explained. “We paid for that survey. We had every right to see that survey and we’re very disappointed that the school board is kind of playing this waiting game. Because you guys know, for us to appeal this denial it’s going to take 30 days. Long past the election is over, is when we’ll maybe see those documents.”
Superintendent Sweat said that the survey will be finalized and presented to the board in a public meeting at some point at which point the results will be made public.
Others speaking against the bond questioned the effectiveness of small schools for academic performance of students. Still, of the around eight non-district employees who did speak in favor of the bond, many of them said the small schools were what made them fall in love with the valley. Among those backing the bond is business owner Danny Labrum.
“I think my tax probably will go up around ten-grand, but I have all the confidence in these men up here,” Labrum continued. “I challenge a lot of the nay-sayers to have the one-on-one conversations with you men. We got to get the facts out, but I know you’ll find the best way to spend my ten-grand.”
The district has provided answers to frequently asked questions on their website.
Read the original story at KPCW.org