November 18, 2009
Kirsten Stewart

The Utah Taxpayers Association lost round one in the fight to move public schools to year-round schedules.
A bill that would have required high schools and middle schools in the Jordan School District to increase capacity by 33 percent failed Wednesday in a legislative committee.

But it isn’t dead yet. Senate Education Committee Chairman Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, remains convinced that moving crowded schools to a trimester schedule will save money. And education officials are exploring ways to test the idea.

Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, pitched his bill as the counterpart to a new equalization law that requires property owners in Salt Lake County to ship some of their tax dollars to the newly divided, but ever-growing, Jordan District to pay for new schools.

The bill would require Jordan to account for how it spends that money. And it would ensure that school buildings built with the taxes don’t sit vacant half the year.

Even with aid from other districts, Jordan will struggle to accommodate booming enrollment, said Stephenson, who predicts Jordan’s property taxes could double over the next 10 to 15 years.

Stephenson favors a trimester schedule, though his bill would allow Jordan to choose between that and other year-round arrangements.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold likes the idea, but opposed the bill on grounds that it holds Jordan to a higher standard than other districts.

“Does this imply other districts are using their buildings inefficiently? And is that OK for some and not others?” said the West Jordan Republican.

Jordan Superintendent Barry Newbold suggested testing the trimester model before taking it district-wide. And State Superintendent Larry Shumway said he is exploring ways to do just that.

The idea sounds good on paper, but implementing it poses challenges for bus schedules, getting buy-in from parents and negotiating teacher contracts, said Barry Newbold. Teachers who agree to work year-round could command more salary than they earn now under 180-day contracts, for example.

“But in order to increase teachers’ salaries, you need to reduce teaching staff,” Barry Newbold said. “Is that voluntary or involuntary? Do you do that through attrition?”