23 May 2024

Assumptions Made by ASD Make a Big Difference in the Numbers!

The numbers presented to the ASD Board on May 14 should be studied very closely. Unfortunately, many people are unable or unwilling to take a deeper look, focusing on the conclusions made instead of on the assumptions that led to those conclusions. Let's look at 2 important points:

  1. All the numbers in the presentation are based on ASD's assumption that smaller districts have higher Administrative Overhead Costs (AOC) than larger ones.
  2. This assumption is contradicted in the presentation itself, especially if the numbers are being added up correctly.

Are administrative overhead costs more for smaller districts? Not according to the numbers in ASD's slide. See the attached chart, and note that there is no correlation between district size and admin overhead costs, at least for districts in Utah over 13,000 students.

Now note that Granite School District's costs were NOT included in the overhead average for large districts. If they had, this number would be $2,354, not $2,034. So on average, do larger school districts have lower admin overhead costs? No! 

Now do the math on all the groups. In the presentation, they said they took out the highest number of each group. But they only did that with the largest district size group! Don't take my word for it, add up the numbers themselves.

So for the rest of the presentation, they used this arbitrary average number to estimate costs for a split that make it about $500 more per student than what ASD currently operates at. Yet there are several of those smaller school districts (Weber, Tooele, Cache, Washington) that operate at similar costs to ASD. Why couldn't the 3 new districts continue to operate at or near this level?

What costs could we expect to see if we were under that assumption instead of the other assumption? If we use $1,935 (ASD's current cost per student) instead of the $2,470 used in the slides, that's about $500 less for each student. That means the East's deficit is only $3 million instead of $16 million; the West has a $20 million surplus instead of $8 million; and the Central has a surplus of $2 million instead of a $15 million deficit.

Calculations based on assumptions make a HUGE difference!

16 May 2024

ASD Board Meeting 05/14/2024

The Alpine School board met and voted to advance only Option 3 for further study, since they are only allowed to advance one option. Here are the key takeaways:

  • The vote was a close 4-3 decision, with the board members most vocally opposed to any split voting to advance the option. This begs the question that if they attempt to put an option on the ballot, what are they really trying to accomplish? Are they just actively trying to conflict with or sabotage the interlocal agreements? Confuse voters?
  • The district also updated some of the errors made by the MGT study, similar to the errors and flaws pointed out in a previous blog post. Overall, it appears the MGT study was mostly a waste of district money, as the options and financial data was mostly provided by the district, and the survey was far detached from the reality of the voting public.
  • The numbers provided by the district (especially all the increases in taxes) are suspect because many of them are speculative, since they will be decided by future boards. A lot of money could be saved by financially aware board members yet to be elected. What is clear is that taxes will go up, whether the district stays together or splits.
  • Board member Julie King had some excellent comments (starting at 4:49:50) about how we can save costs. She points out that if the district continues to try to fight the interlocal agreements, this could cost taxpayers and hurt students. "If you bring the problems closer to the people, there's going to be a higher investment in resolving those."
  • Board member Stacy Bateman said "it was this board's inability to recognize that representation is an issue and to not act on all of the things that we could that triggered the cities moving so quickly". She also stated that the inability of other board members to consider Option 4 sent a very clear message that "all board members were not in fact looking out for all areas". She continued, "Alpine does not have a monopoly on the extraordinary things that are happening in Utah" and that many smaller districts across the state are fully capable of providing quality education for their students. Not to mention that the resulting districts of a 3 way split of Alpine would NOT result in "small" districts (they would be the 6th, 9th, and 11th largest in the state).
  • Board member Joylin Lincoln reminded that all options presented were financially feasible and that "I want us to move forward with kindness and working together". She also pointed out that if the district proceeds with an option that is in direct conflict with the community interlocal agreements, then that is sending a message that the school boar is not interested in collaboration.
  • Board president Sarah Hacken incorrectly stated that the bond failed by 600 votes, when it was actually almost 7,000. She also stated that the East area would be disadvantaged in a 3 way split, but that's entirely speculative, and ignores the strength of the Orem area. It's unfortunate that the 2 Orem board members seem to be painting their community in such a bleak way. She tried to make a case for how redistricting affects representation, but her argument quickly dissolved when Bateman pointed out the fallacy that districting was the issue.

08 May 2024

Four-city Council Discussion

A Four-city council discussion was held by Lindon, Orem, Vineyard, and Pleasant Grove yesterday.

The superintendent did a great job of providing information and not speaking for anyone else.

Regarding Board Member Ada Wilson's comments:
- "Keep politics out of the process" - Every decision made about a public institution is, by definition, political. Those of us who want to divide the district are doing so because we honestly and whole heartedly feel that it is in the best interest of the students. Ada can certainly believe that staying as a whole district is better. But when someone claims that only one side is being political, they are being subjective and prejudiced.
- Ada mentions that ASD is running a tight budget, but also claims that big school districts pay teachers more. Not according to a U of U study that found that ASD was one of the lowest paying districts in Utah, far behind most districts that are smaller. https://gardner.utah.edu/blog/blog-teacher-salaries-how-does-utah-compare/
Also keep in mind that a 3 way split would still produce the 6th (Central), 9th (East), and 11th (West) largest districts in the state (all over 24,000 students). None of the new districts would be "small". Overall, I do think ASD has done as good a job that they can, but the district is too large and a more reasonable sized district could do better.
- Unfortunately, our communities do not have the information they need because the MGT study was limited in scope, and has major questions. ASD has admitted that their numbers don't match the MGT study. More information is needed and fast.
- One thing I do agree with her on is that surveys/polling (real, neutral, scientific polling) would be helpful for cities making decisions.

Board Member Julie King's comments were insightful and demonstrate the collaborative, positive, and student-focus nature of the interlocal agreements.
- I'm glad some of the concerns with the MGT study were brought up.
- "Canyons and Jordan are phenomenal districts." I think this needs to be emphasized in light of all the "doom and gloom" being projected on the idea of a split. Both those districts are still doing fine, and both are paying teachers more than ASD.

One PG city council member talked about golfing instead of being part of the discussion. I hope the residents of PG hear that and vote him out. That's just lazy and irresponsible. We need people more engaged, not less, but perhaps that's indicative of how some city councils were caught napping on this. And in that light, it's been very beneficial to have the interlocal agreements that have forced the issue to be talked about in more circles.

07 May 2024

Do We Trust the Community?

"It's obvious community members cannot be trusted to make the best decisions for students and education."

This was a comment posted today from someone who opposes any sort of school district division. And upon further reflection, perhaps this is actually getting down to the heart of the matter: Do we trust our local community?

Do we believe in government of the people, by the people, and for the people? Or has the American experiment failed? Are we just sheep that need to be told where to go and what to do? Or are we educated individuals with varying opinions, but shared values like integrity, responsibility, and liberty? If we can't trust that communities can make wise decisions, then do we start down a path that nationalizes education, eliminates democratic voting, and returns government to authoritarians?

Teachers are wonderful. Doctors are great. Scientists are brilliant. Politicians are .... hopefully trying their best. 😉 And all can contribute to a beautiful, flourishing society. But no one is perfect, all-knowing, or incapable of giving bad direction. We should never blindly follow someone just because they are an "expert in their field". Truly, if the "experts" can't demonstrate to the public that something is good, it probably isn't. Good ideas should never be implemented by force and if the community is paying for it, they should also be trusted to lead or make changes to it.

It's not unhealthy to have rigorous discussion, serious disagreements, and even embarrassing mistakes. What is unhealthy is to relinquish our agency, engage in vicious personal attacks, or presume mal intent.

We in Alpine School District have the opportunity to come together, support each other, and make a decision that will benefit generations to come. By dividing the school district we are letting the communities grow and thrive through self governance. This is the right path forward!

01 May 2024

David N. Cox - Teacher, Legislator, Statesman

My dad was into splitting the district before it was cool. 😎

I say that in jest, but with the recent news that several communities are going to be studying ballot initiatives to split Alpine School District into 2 or 3 new districts, I would like to take a moment to reflect on how we got here. I also wanted to take a personal moment to celebrate my dad, David N. Cox, who decades ago predicted that the day would come when:

  1. Bonds wouldn't pass in Alpine School District, and
  2. ASD would be forced to divide by the communities whose various needs weren't being met.

For over 30 years, David Cox was a beloved fifth grade teacher, especially at Lehi and Sego Lily Elementaries. Every year, instead of just lecturing about the American system of government, he had his class experience it by electing representatives, senators, and a president. Mr. Cox even dressed up as Thomas Jefferson to show them how the founding fathers felt it necessary to secede from Great Britain and create a separate, independent nation, where the local people could govern, instead of an executive ruling from across the ocean. For many of the students, those experiences developed a deep, lasting love for the freedoms we enjoy and the excruciating efforts it took to both bring them about and preserve them for generations.

Joining the Republican Party at a young age, David believed in the principles of limited, local government, the value of public education, and the responsibility of citizens to be involved and provide service when called upon. In 1998, the residents of Lehi called on him to serve in the Utah Legislature. He was hesitant, because it would require him to leave his family and students for several weeks during the legislative session, with most of his part time legislative compensation having to pay for a long term substitute teacher. But he knew that his experience as a public school teacher combined with his values as a common sense conservative were desperately needed on capitol hill.

As a legislator, Rep. Cox fought for more funding for public education and less mandates. He fought against taking diverting money it to private education through vouchers. On the transportation committee, he even sacrificed the home of his dreams to allow Pioneer Crossing to be built so the residents of Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain could have a faster route home than Lehi Main Street.

But the piece of legislation that was the largest investment for him was to help divide large school districts into smaller, more manageable ones. He had done extensive research on the subject and was passionate about the positive effects this could have for public education. This legislation enabled Canyons School District to divide from Jordan School District, which was the largest in the state. Today, both Canyons and Jordan are better able to pay for and care for their students, teachers and programs, and be more responsive to local residents.

Cox also supported various attempts from Lehi and Orem to form their own school districts. He knew there would be challenges, and being a teacher in the district himself, he knew that his own employment could be in a less secure position. But David Cox was a man of duty and integrity. He didn't make decisions based on what would benefit himself the most; he took a stand to do the right thing, even if it cost him personally – which it did, just not in the way he expected.

Unfortunately, various district administrators and board members over the years have mounted strong opposition, successfully thwarting every attempt to date. After 30+ years of teaching, Mr. Cox tearfully retired. Suspiciously, no school in Alpine School District would hire him again, even when facing a teacher shortage, likely because of his political positions. The silver lining was that this enabled him to pursue other teaching opportunities and spend more time with family.

As cancer took his health and eventually his life, he continued to advocate both for smaller schools and districts, as well as more education funding. In 2022, his last year, he supported both the effort to split the district AND to pass the bond to alleviate overcrowding. He surely would have been dismayed when the last bond attempt failed, had he lived to see it, even though he knew it would eventually happen.

Now those of us who live in Alpine School District have an important decision to make. Like our founding fathers, we can choose to forge a bold new path. We can choose local control and responsibility for our children's education. By creating smaller districts, we can choose to involve more parents and residents in the school boards and systems. We can make a meaningful difference in the lives of children who haven't even been born yet!

Let's get this over the finish line! Let's have the integrity of David N. Cox, a humble father, teacher, and statesman. Let's work together to create new, community-sized school districts that can help our students learn, grow, and face the challenges of the future.

30 April 2024

ASD Board Meeting 4/30/2024

Alpine School District had a special meeting early today. Here are my notes as the meeting proceeded:

District administrative staff predictably recommended staying together. This is not surprising. The district will never support a split.

Board member Lincoln expressed excellent thoughts about how ASD has not been able to keep up with growth over the years, as she reminisced over her career on both sides of the district.

Although the MGT study was flawed, Wilson and Clements continued to rely on it to make their points. Wilson also claimed that Orem would be "isolated" in Option 4, which is not true - they would be joined by PG, Lindon, and Vineyard. When Orem's prop 2 was on the table, many individuals in all of these 4 communities expressed support for exactly that kind of district.

King expressed how important it is that 9 city councils (dozens of elected officials that are more closely elected by the public) unanimously recommended what is basically Option 4. She also noted how the central area would be the 6th largest, the east would be the 9th largest, and the west would be 11th largest (but fast growing) districts in Utah - they would not be small districts. She expressed concerns with the MGT financial data. There were differences that King said make it look like the district is changing the numbers to look worse for a split.

Hacken said Option 4 is already on the ballot, which is not technically true. Thankfully, Bateman clarified later that the cities are only studying it at this point. 

We are grateful that members Hacken, Lincoln, King, and Bateman asked for Option 4 to continue to be studied.

It's obvious that Wilson and Clement are unwilling to split the district. It will be up to the other board members to pursue this in good faith.

Bateman brought up how unequal representation has been for the west side. Overall, each community should have multiple representatives, not one or two. 

In conclusion, both Options 3 and 4 will continue to be studied by the school board. See also this article from the Daily Herald on the meeting. 

29 April 2024

So it begins...

The Daily Herald reported today that several cities are taking steps to potentially put a district split question to voters. Essentially, this would be Option 4 from the ASD/MGT presentation. Key takeaways:

  • Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, Cedar Fort and Fairfield appear to be intent on putting the issue to the voters. This makes sense because they are the ones desperate to build new schools, and it has become obvious that waiting for all of Alpine School District to agree to pay for the new buildings is wishful, but unrealistic thinking.
  • Lehi, American Fork, Alpine, Cedar Hills, Highland, and the small part of Draper that has been part of the district are all moving forward to study the issue and potentially ask voters to approve. This post from a Lehi City Council member has more information. Also see this Lehi Free Press article
  • Orem, Pleasant Grove, Lindon, and Vineyard are watching the situation carefully as noted in this post from Lindon Mayor Lundberg, and this recorded meeting with Orem and Lindon city councils.