While the Alpine School District’s 2016 bond centered around a message of student safety, it’s potential 2020 bond could take a different direction.
“Voters’ primary concern really hinged on class size,” Kyrene Gibb, the vice president of research at Y2 Analytics, told the Alpine School District Board of Education during the board’s study session on Tuesday.
Gibb presented the results of focus groups on a possible, upcoming bond to the Alpine School District Board of Education on Tuesday. Results came from two focus groups made up of a total of 17 people who were split into groups based on sex. The organization will follow up with a survey late next month to validate its findings.
“Focus groups can only get us so far,” Gibb said.
An informational campaign about a potential bond could come in the summer.
The district last passed a bond in 2016 to fund $387 million that went toward projects such as constructing new schools — including Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain — rebuilding existing, aging schools, purchasing land for future schools, and performing security improvements.
The board has discussed placing a bond on the November ballot but has not announced a price tag or a list of potential projects that could be on it.
The Alpine School District has continued to grow every year. It had 81,532 students as of Oct. 1, according to 2019 enrollment and projection data from the district, and is expected to have 86,290 students for the 2024-25 academic year.
As of Oct. 1, the district had 15 elementary schools that had enrollments of more than 900 students.
The district had 25.21 students for every one teacher during the 2017-18 school year, according to information from the Utah State Board of Education, making it the district with the highest student-to-teacher ratio in Utah. The state average for the same time period was 21.74 students per teacher.
Focus groups for the 2016 bond identified student safety as their top concern for the district.
Lowering class sizes could be a theme for a potential 2020 bond.
“Class size is a significant, perceived concern,” said Shane Farnsworth, an assistant superintendent, during the meeting.
Farnsworth said that increased student enrollment leads to a need to find a way to house additional teachers in order to maintain class sizes.
“I like that direction,” said Mark Clement, a member of the board. “If we don’t have more buildings, we can’t reduce class size. There is no way.”
Clement alluded to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and how it was able to secure large amounts of media attention. Clement said the district could bring in more video and entertainment to make its campaign go viral, and suggesting doing something such as creating their own emojis to get the word out.
The focus groups also voiced interest in a potential shortage of teachers and how the district would attract and retain quality teachers.
Gibb told the board that most of the group members expressed positive opinions about the district’s accomplishments, such as offering Advanced Placement classes and language-immersion programs. The groups also voiced that they wanted to know how the district is spending its funds and if it has explored all of its options for funding growth.
What came as a surprise, Gibb said, was how little information the groups could recall about the 2016 bond. Gibb said most of the focus group said they couldn’t remember the last time the district had a bond on the ballot.
“I do think that speaks to the minimal — really minimal — tax impact that voters felt,” she said.
The $387 million 2016 bond did not raise property taxes due to other bonds being paid off.
Gibb said what voters did remember was a shortfall of bond funds versus projects it was funding and missed deadlines.
One bond project, Lake Mountain Middle School in Saratoga Springs, did not open in time for the first day of school in the fall.
Focus group members also cited false rumors. Kimberly Bird, a spokeswoman for the district, spoke in the meeting about the need for the district to go out and educate the community.
“There are so many misconceptions out there,” Bird said. “They think we did something with the University (Place) mall as a bond project, that $30 million was for the mall.”
Y2 Analytics presented the focus group with the idea of a $500 million bond that would cause a property tax increase, a $450 million bond that wouldn’t lead to an increase and a $400 million bond that would lead to a tax decrease. Gibb said all three had support, but that the groups were confused and skeptical of a bond that would lead to a tax decrease.
Those options will be included on a survey that could go out next month. Other growth management techniques, like switching to year-round school, could also be included on the survey.
Gibb said the board should know what they want with a bond before they potentially vote to place one on the November ballot.
“Once that decision is made, your hands are tied,” she said.