howardnlby Howard Stephenson
Granite and Jordan School District are among America’s best in terms of efficiency and graduation rates, according to two separate national reports. The two school districts located in Salt Lake County were treated as one district for purposes of the study and ranked second “best education” by Forbes magazine. The study emphasized graduation rates as one of the most important indicators in a successful school district. In a separate ranking, the Hoover Institute at Stanford University wrote published an essay on “the cost per finished U.S. high school graduate” and ranked Jordan School District as the most productive in the nation.

Forbes magazine in an article titled “Best Education in the Biggest Cities” compared high school graduation rates, the affordability of housing, and access to educational resources among the nation’s largest 100 school districts. In the comparison, Granite and Jordan School Districts were combined as one school district and rose to the top earning a second place ranking. Forbes weighted graduation rates as the most important indicator of a successful school district, citing a Manhattan Institute study, which stated “the high school graduation rate is a stronger predictor of the future life outcome of students than test scores. . . Whether students graduate or not also contains a lot of information about ambition, discipline, etc. and not just abstract academic skills.”

The first place ranking was given to the school district of Boston, Massachusetts, which had the highest graduation rate at 82%. Jordan/Granite had the second highest graduation rate at 78.5%. Another factor that helped Jordan/Granite earn second place was the affordability of housing in the districts.

For a copy of the Forbes article go to

Jordan School District is the most productive school districts in the nation according to a study published by the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. The Institute’s weekly essay for June 10, 2004 stated “the cost per finished student is as important a measure of a school system’s productivity as the annual academic progress reports called for in President Bush’s education reforms.” Jordan School District’s cost per final graduate in the 1997-98 school year was $59,199. This was the lowest cost per graduate among the nation’s 50 largest school districts and about half of the national average. The national average was $108,730 and Cleveland, Ohio had the highest cost at $297,282. The essay also examined graduate cost on a state basis. Utah was also the lowest cost per graduate at $67,003. The graduate cost in the Hoover Institute weekly essay does not include the cost of building capital facilities or debt service.

For a copy of the Hoover Institute’s weekly essay go to

Proposal to Create New School District in Utah County May Face Voters in November

Award-winning Jordan and Granite School Districts are Utah’s largest, having enrollments of 74,000 and 70,000 respectively. Utah’s fourth largest district, Alpine, which has enrollment of 50,000 students, is proposed to be split into two districts. Citizens in Alpine School District may be voting on a proposal to allow the west side of the district, which includes the cities of Lehi, Eagle Mountain, and Saratoga Springs to secede from Alpine School District and create a new district, tentatively named Pioneer School District.

An ad hoc committee that was created to study the issue voted 5-1 against the proposal. However, Utah County Commissioners have the ultimate say as to whether the issue will be placed on this November’s ballot. If the measure is placed on the ballot, voters in both the would-be new district and voters in the remaining portion of Alpine School District must each approve the measure by a majority vote.

A BYU study indicated that school district property tax rates in the new district would be 40% higher than they otherwise would be if secession did not occur. Since school district property tax rates are about 65% of total property taxes in Lehi, the total property tax rate would increase by roughly 25%. The proposed new district is experiencing explosive enrollment growth which must be addressed by issuing bonds for new buildings which are financed by property taxes. Additionally, the Pioneer School District would have virtually no commercial property tax base. Since commercial properties do not receive the 45% exemption like primary residential property does, the absence of significant commercial property will adversely impact property tax rates.

Currently, residents in the proposed new district are subsidized by property owners in the other parts of the district. If secession occurs, then property taxes in the remaining part of Alpine School District could probably decrease unless school district officials try to capture a windfall by maintaining existing rates. Promoters of the new district counter that a smaller district would provide better education because residents would have more “local control”.

The Utah Taxpayers Association warns voters to be wary of this proposal for two reasons. First, despite claims that the new district will be more responsive to residents because it is smaller than the current Alpine School District, the Pioneer School District will nevertheless be a monopoly like Alpine or any other school district in Utah. Moreover, the Pioneer District will cover an area that will eventually have more than 100,000 residents, greatly reducing the promise of increased responsiveness to taxpayer needs. A BYU study indicated that school district property tax rates in the new school district would be 40% higher than they otherwise would be if secession did not occur.

Real reform requires parental control, not alleged local control, and parental control is best achieved through charter schools and tuition tax credits. These alternatives not only encourage improved performance through choice and competition but also are a boon to taxpayers since tuition tax credits enable students to be educated at a lower total cost to taxpayers than if these students were educated in the new district.

Second, the creation of a high tax district in Utah County on the border of Salt Lake County will adversely impact Utah County’s property tax base since businesses will be encouraged to locate just across the border in Salt Lake County. Tax competition keeps tax rates in check and should be encouraged, not ignored.