Orem City Council votes to add school district split to ballot

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The Orem City Council meets in a special meeting to discuss putting the school district split on the ballot. The meeting was open to in-person attendees and streamed online. (Screenshot taken from Orem City Council YouTube channel)

The Orem City Council determined during a special meeting on Tuesday that citizens will vote on the possibility of an Orem school district.

The city has previously discussed splitting from the Alpine School District and in January 2022, Orem city officials announced the beginning of a study to find out if an Orem school district would be viable. The study results, which were released in July, found that a new school district in Orem would be financially feasible. The city council voted 4-3 to give Orem residents the opportunity to vote on the measure.

Cissy Rasmussen, founder of StrongerTogether, a group dedicated to raising awareness on the Orem school district issues, spoke out against a citywide vote on the measure.

“By putting this on the ballot you’re telling us that you accept a scenario of increased taxes, future bonds that will also increase taxes, diminished services and an uncertain future,” she said. “This is an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.”

A tax increase is a major concern for both sides of the issue. Creating an Orem school district would raise taxes by an undetermined amount, which several opponents cited as their main argument. Those in favor of the school district split said it would be better for those tax dollars to benefit their children more directly, instead of being spread across several cities in the valley.

“It’s simple: Will Orem kids benefit from Orem taxes?” Orem Mayor David Young said. Mayor Young said he supported the school district split because it would enable the city to focus on problems facing their students such as increasing class sizes and decreasing test scores.

Scott Price, an Orem resident and father of four, echoed Mayor Young’s concerns and said Orem should be able to take responsibility for the children’s education.

“Orem controls its water, Orem controls its power. Those are our most valuable physical resources but nothing is more valuable of a resource than our children,” Price said. “We would not delegate the responsibility for caring for them and teaching them to people in American Fork. Nice as they may be, their interests are in American Fork.”

City councilor Tom MacDonald voted “nay” on the resolution because of the uncertainty around tax increases and said he would not vote on a measure without fully understanding the effects.

“To do so would be unfair to businesses thinking about locating in Orem as well as those who are already here. It would also harm those on limited income,” MacDonald said. “And all those who believe government should spend reasonably and responsibly.”

Some raised concerns that an Orem school district would not have access to the same resources as Alpine School District because of its size.

“Alpine School District gives support to those schools that only a large district can give,” said Sara Hacken, a member of the Orem School Board. According to Hacken, Orem high schools will gain six new teachers in the fall thanks to the Alpine School District, but without the larger district’s support Orem is too small to fully fund its own programs.

“These are great schools, but they need great support and I don’t think they’ll get it from an Orem school district,” Hacken said.

More than 100 people signed up to speak at the meeting, and Mayor Young said the heavy interest in the issue reflects the city’s investment in its children and their education.

“I believe that everyone in this room wants the same thing,” he said. “We want the best education possible for our children. We want our teachers to be paid fairly. We don’t want our taxes too high. The issue before us is that we have different visions of how we can get there.”

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