Staff Editorial: Break ups should be done carefully
The Wasatch Front is in the throws of a debate concerning whether small school districts should be formed out of large ones. News articles about the situation and the debate have been appearing in the upstate newspapers almost every day.
People want local control of their schools. Having spent many years working in one of those large districts in Salt Lake, and then acting as a consultant to school districts around the country on their operations, I came to a conclusion a long time ago there is no perfect school district, and one size certainly doesn't fit all.
Large districts, population wise, often don't serve the needs of much of their population the way they should. On the other hand very small districts have a hard time financially serving almost anyones needs.
Some of the debate in Salt Lake is territorial. Murray has always had its own district, owing to state laws that at one time that required that second class cities have their own districts. The same thing affected Logan and Provo, which could have easily been part of both the Cache County and Alpine School Districts if it hadn't been for the law. Now a number of towns that have grown in both Utah and Salt Lake County are considering either grouping together or going singly with school districts of their own.
Jordan, Granite, Alpine, Weber and Davis School Districts are very large. It's hard for neighborhoods to feel connected to a board of education that has a few members from areas that have hundreds of thousands of people living in them.
A hundred years ago, Utah was filled with small rural school districts that generally encompassed only the small towns they represented. Granite, for instance, was formed from small districts ranging from the farming community of Cottonwood, west to Magna, a mining and smelter community. It was done for uniformity. At that time the district probably didn't have 5,000 students. Today they have almost 70,000. Sometimes old organizations outgrow their usefulness.
In Carbon County, each town also had its own school district many years ago and eventually grew into the county district we now have. If our population increased 1000 percent, we might have to look at a different way to do things too.
What I found when working with school districts, and I have had this confirmed by a number of studies I have seen over the years, is that metropolitan school districts that are the most efficient financially and responsive socially usually fall into the category of having between 30 and 40 schools. The five districts mentioned range from twice to three times that many.
But these areas that want to form their own districts should also take note that the scale of a district, when operated properly, is a big factor in economics. I once met a man who told me a school district really needs nothing more than a superintendent, his secretary, and a principal in every school to operate. That is a very naive statement; school districts are complicated organizations that have to cater to a number of state and federal laws and mandates, as well as fill a number of roles for the community. Utah as a whole is very light on administration in its schools; I know this because I have seen districts outside the state that may have 20 schools and have more people working in their district offices than either Jordan or Granite.
It may be time to break up the big school districts along the Wasatch Front, but care needs to be taken that no students will lose out on opportunities because of the change.
How does this affect Carbon County? Well, the fact is that money across the state for education is dependent on a number of factors and anything that affects one segment can affect another. There are also a lot of indirect consequences, such as salaries in new districts for teachers, the supply of teachers when more administrative jobs open up, and other factors.
And there is one other piece of that breakup puzzle that affects many in our area as well. Most of us either have siblings who have kids or we have grandkhildren who will be affected by any changes in the schools in the urban areas, because that is where they live.
We are one state, and what affects one part of our geopolitical area, affects all of us.