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Saturday, March 11, 2006
Governor Huntsman, Sign HB77

Here's why I urge Governor Huntsman to sign HB77, which provides a mechanism for local governments and their voters to split school districts.

The Utah House and Senate passed HB77 (technically, substitute 2). It's on the Governor's desk for his signature or veto. Sponsored by local Rep. David Cox, this legislation provides ways for cities, counties, and the voting populations of each to split school districts. Local watchdog Oak Norton provides this link for telling the Governor what you think he should do: http://governor.utah.gov/goca/form_comment.html. Apparently -- and this is no surprise -- Governor Huntsman already has thousands of letters opposing the bill and urging him to veto it. (The public schools and the PTAs are nothing if not capable of producing letters.)

I read the bill. I like it. You can read it here, if you're into that sort of thing. If you're not, the essence of the matter is this: "This bill . . . allows the governing body of certain cities and counties to submit for voter approval a proposal to establish a new school district."

I know that the party line in the Alpine School District is that breaking it up would be a terrible thing. (This bill wouldn't break it up, but would create a mechanism by which that could be accomplished.) I actually believe them when they tell me that there are certain economies of scale. There are pros and cons on both sides, as far as I can tell, but the debate has generated a lot more heat than light so far.

I suggest you drop a note to the Governor and urge him to sign the bill. Here's why:

  1. I think the debate should continue and should get more serious. As I read the bill, such a breakup, if pursued seriously, would require the votes of local legislative bodies (more debate) and majority votes of voters within the district (still more debate). I'd like to see the Alpine School District (ASD) placed in an ongoing situation of having to justify its size against the real threat that it actually might be broken up. This might reduce some of the disadvantages of size all by itself; ASD would have to compete against the possibility of smaller districts.
  2. I go to work at least five days per week in the awareness that if I do something really bad, I could be fired. In fact, if I simply fail to perform at an adequate level for an extended period, I could experience the same result. I work hard anyway, but the extra motivation doesn't hurt. It helps. We have very few mechanisms by which to impose any comparable accountability on the public schools, and the system resists all such attempts. Let's add this one to the menu.
  3. My children and my taxes go to a very large school district with some real strengths, but with leaders who like to cite the number of students in the district as the reason why they can't be bothered to care about (or even talk about) any particular student. I'd like them to have to think twice about using that excuse so readily in the future.
  4. Right now, in such debates, a school district can play dirty -- e.g. indoctrinating the students -- almost without negative consequences, if it pleases, and it pleases more often than we might wish. This is because the district holds nearly all the cards, despite the fact that, in theory, they work for you and me. With this bill signed into law, they'll have to be more circumspect, because playing dirty could actually hurt them. It might offend the voters.

Once the law is in place, we can have a long, meaningful debate about whether huge is better than big or medium. I hope Governor Huntsman signs the bill so we can get on with it. And Representative Cox, thank you for pushing the bill through.

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