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Wasatch School District Bond Fails:Now The Next Steps

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Wasatch School District
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The $150 million Wasatch County School District bond failed at the ballot box on Tuesday with 57% voting it down. Had it passed, it would have funded a new high school in Heber and a new middle school in Midway.

Wasatch School District Director of Communications John Moss says it was an interesting election for school district bond measures across the state with all, but one rejected by voters. He thinks one of the factors has to do with how rapidly Wasatch County property values have gone up in recent years.

“South Summit failed. Wasatch failed. Toole failed. Provo failed. Kanab is the only one I believe that succeeded and it was a much smaller school district and a much smaller bond. There’s a general feeling that taxes are getting out of hand and we understand that.”

Moss thinks social media propelled rumors rather than facts and his gut feeling is that it played a role in the outcome.

“The discord and the attack mentality that exists on social media that really does damage the public discourse. People are so free to share things that aren’t factual. The facts were not nearly as powerful as the rumor.”

The bond, if it had passed would have funded a second, high school in the Wasatch School District and a new elementary school in Midway. The demographic study done last year shows 10,000 homes will be built in Wasatch County by 2025 with 8000 more students in the school district. Current enrollment is around 7000.

Moss says he started teaching at the high school 34 years ago when there were 640 kids enrolled and this year, they enrolled 640 in the Freshman class alone. He says misinformation about student growth was also pushed out on social media.

“There was an effort put out by those who opposed the bond that those numbers were artificially inflated and that in reality there’s a dip in student growth.”

Moss says false information about the high school location was circulating stating the high school would be built on the North Fields. The district could not fully respond to the rumors because the land purchase involved six property owners and they were in negotiations and unable to comment.

“Well, the property we were planning to build on was not in the North Fields. It was located on Midway Lane. It got labeled as North Field property.  It was also labeled as swamp land and we had hydrologists test on it, and we did all the research that was needed and it’s very well prepared to build on.  But people were calling it swamp land in the North Fields and we just couldn’t get a handle on pulling those false information reports down.”

School boundaries will have to be redrawn to shift the overcrowding in Midway’s elementary school. He says it looks like they’ll have to bus kids to less populated schools in the county. The high school the west campus is at capacity, so it’s likely portables will be purchased to accommodate overcrowding. Moss says the administration and board of education is very concerned about the projections showing enrollment hitting nearly 4000 students in the next 5 years.

“Which is way, way too many students. We are believers in a medium sized school. That’s where kids can get involved in extra curricular activities. Extra-curricular activities correlate directly with academic success.”

Moss says there is a mistrust of the board of education and the false rumors that were circulating were embraced by voters.

Midway Mayor Celeste Johnson says the failure of the bond is a message to all elected officials that they must solicit input from the public. She believes most people in the county understand the challenges the school district is facing with growth and overcrowding.

“I believe, once again, that the voters have made it very clear that they would like to see additional options and perhaps would like to be more a part of the process. And have more understanding on what the options could be.”

Moss says it’s going to be a challenging few years as they figure out how to accommodate the growing student population. He would be surprised if the board decided to run a school bond again next year because the public has spoken clearly on the issue for now. 
  
 

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.
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