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Dozens share opinions about new Wasatch County high school at public hearing

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Wasatch County School District
A room full of people attend a public hearing at the Wasatch Education Center Thursday.

Parents, school administrators, concerned taxpayers, and recent graduates of Wasatch High School showed up to a public hearing Thursday. Opinions about the plan to build a new high school were mixed and sometimes emotional.

As the meeting began, chairs were full and attendees lined the room’s walls. At Board Chair Tom Hansen’s suggestion, the board cleared the agenda of everything but the public hearing over the school district’s intent to borrow $150 million to build a new high school.

Over the next several hours, more than 40 people spoke. Some expressed full support for the board.

“I appreciate you taking the recommendation of the majority of the community and doing what’s best for students,” parent Breanne Dedrickson said. “We are doing something that is legal, that has been done, and is needed to expedite our solution to the problem that we have in this valley.”

Others questioned the board’s strategy, like former board member Joseph Chenworth.

“We never did anything like this to the people who were depending on us to keep the taxes as low as we could and to keep things knowable,” he said.

Since voting to proceed in July, the board hasn’t wavered from its plan to pay for a new school primarily through bonds that don’t require voter approval. Thursday’s public hearing was part of the process required by state law.

The district announced the board will certify the issuance of the bonds in a special meeting September 1. That announcement came late Thursday, after the public hearing. Once the bonds are issued, the district will use its own funding sources to pay back the debt, primarily with property tax revenue, starting in 2025.

The district says it’s following the recommendation of a 2021 facilities study to build a new school and campus. Some commenters urged the board to follow a different, less expensive strategy that was also presented to the school board for consideration.

“We can’t have everything that we want,” Heber resident Charlotte Scheid said. “Even as a parent — children can’t have everything they want, even though we’d like to. I think that you want everything, but it’s not the right time for that.”

She also said many in the room and community had good alternative ideas and asked the board to work with them on a plan focused on expanding the current school.

Others brought up that splitting the community between two high schools would come with drawbacks. Some called for more detailed plans of how the district plans to ensure it can repay the debt.

Wasatch High School is designed for 1,800 students, and 2,600 students are enrolled this semester. Superintendent Paul Sweat said 500 students already take classes in the old junior high school, and continuing to expand that campus isn’t a long-term solution.

“We’ve tried a lot of different things,” Superintendent Paul Sweat said, “in the hallways, in the lunchroom — we’ve tried three lunches. It’s just maxed out, and so to add the wings on now would just add insult to injury to an overcrowded high school.”

Abby Covarrubias just graduated in May from Wasatch High School as student body president. She told the board the overcrowding did impact students’ learning experiences.

“I also am really appreciative of our teachers that work really hard,” Covarrubias said. “With the crowded schools, they’ve done the best they can. And I know that in the student body, I’ve heard lots of people talk about how the crowdedness does distract them from [being] in a school that could provide the best education.”

The meeting ended after 10 p.m. Before adjourning, Hansen said he has concerns for the state of public education nationwide, but those involved with his district prioritize students.

“Wasatch County School District is not giving up on public education — not on this board’s watch,” Hansen said. “We will do everything that we can personally do to continue to provide the best education for students in this valley, and that is a promise.”

For a full recording of the public hearing, visit the Wasatch County School District YouTube channel.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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