South Summit makes $58.65 million bond measure official
If approved, money would pay for a new high school to alleviate overcrowding
After months of planning, the South Summit School District last week made it official: It will ask taxpayers to crack open their pocketbooks for a new high school in order to alleviate rapidly worsening overcrowding problems.
The Board of Education voted unanimously at a public meeting Aug. 10 to put a bond measure on November’s ballot seeking $58.65 million. If taxpayers approve the measure, the money would fund the construction of a new high school just west of Kamas, as well as necessary capital improvements to the three existing facilities.
For primary homeowners, the bond would cost $95.81 annually per $100,000 of taxable home value, according to the district. Businesses would pay $174.21 a year for every $100,000 of property value.
Additionally, the Board voted to purchase 150 acres of vacant land for the new school, just outside the Kamas city limits, north of State Road 248, near Weller Recreation. According to Superintendent Shad Sorenson, the cost of the land is $2 million, coming from the district’s reserves and not included in the bond.
The decision to go to bond is primarily a result of rapid growth within South Summit’s schools. District data indicates enrollment has grown 16 percent over the last decade, leading to crowded classrooms and packed hallways that are only expected to worsen in the coming years.
Projections show that all three schools, which are already full, will be at least 24 percent over capacity within five years and at least 54 percent over capacity within a decade.
Last year, school officials set out to find a solution to the problem. A master-planning committee worked for months and considered a number of alternatives before ultimately settling on the plan the Board of Education recently approved: building a new high school and realigning the grade structure to spread the student body over four facilities, instead of three.
School officials say the new school and grade adjustments would also allow the district to create learning environments geared toward a 21st-century education for all students.
The vote to go to bond was a critical step to officially put the plan into action. If the measure passes this fall, the district is aiming to begin construction on the new high school and start the repairs on the current ones in the spring, with a target date of opening the new facility in the fall of 2020, according to documents posted on South Summit’s website, ssummit.org.
But the district will have to clear one more major hurdle: getting enough voters to check “Yes” at the ballot box. In an interview, Sorenson said school officials, rather than attempting to sway voters — which is forbidden under state law — will play an informational role through the election. Their aim will be to get the facts about the bond in the hands of as many residents as possible.
Sorenson’s belief is that many informed residents, seeing the pressing capacity issues and the steps the district took to find a solution, will vote in favor of the measure.
“We will be doing everything we can to make sure every resident understands why the Board decided to pass a bond resolution so they can have the information to make an educated decision when they vote,” he said. “We’ll be using all channels of media.”
While the district cannot lobby in favor of the bond, residents are not bound by such restrictions. Sorenson said it’s likely a group of people not directly affiliated with the district will form a political action committee to fundraise and campaign for the measure. It’s also possible a similar committee could be created to oppose it.
So far, the community reception has been favorable, Sorenson said. But now that there’s an official price tag affixed to the bond — and residents can determine how much they’d pay if it passes — there’s a chance those who are against it could become more vocal, he admitted.
If the bond doesn’t pass, the district will have to take other steps to alleviate the overcrowding. One likely option would be to move to a year-round schedule in which not all students attend during the same time of year. Another, short-term, solution would be installing several portable classrooms.
Jim Snyder, president of the Board of Education, said he’s hoping neither scenario comes to pass.
“Those plans would work for a time, but we’re looking for a plan that’s going be for the long-term, one that we can build on,” he said. “If we can get a new building in place and our current buildings renovated, the solution is for the long-term. But I don’t know whether the public will agree with us or not.”
Sorenson added that school officials did not take lightly the decision to ask taxpayers to foot the bill. They carefully weighed the benefit of a new high school against the impact the bond would have on residents, he said.
“In the end, I think we all felt like this was the right direction to go,” he said.
For more information about the bond, visit the district’s website at http://www.ssummit.org.
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