LOGAN, Utah (ABC4)– Mail-in ballots will be sent out to Utah voters right before Halloween. Voters who live in the Cache County School District’s boundaries will have a $139 million bond on their ballot. This is the first school bond the district has requested in 10 years. In that time, the area has seen a lot of growth, which they say has put a strain on the schools. In fact, officials say 12 are currently operating over capacity.
Since the last bond, the district’s student population has grown nearly 30 percent. There are now 20,000 students spread out among the district’s schools. Of the 12 schools that are over capacity, one is a middle school and the other 11 are elementary schools.
“Right now, we are operating with 38 portables across our district,” Gary Thomas explained. Thomas is the assistant superintendent over elementary schools.
Portables are supposed to be a temporary solution to a big problem — a big student population, that is. If you have ever driven past a school and noticed small buildings that look like mobile homes, you’ve seen a portable.
River Heights Elementary has the most portables of any school in the district. There are six lined up in two rows of three next to the main building. “Which means we have that many more kids assigned to our building than what really should safely be here,” Principal Stacie Williamson told ABC4. Williamson said her school has been over capacity for a long time.
Inside, the portables look like a normal classroom but are much smaller. This is evident from the supplies that are stacked from the floor to the ceiling in the portables. Williamson said it also means that these classrooms cannot have some of the equipment and technology that is used on a daily basis in a normal classroom.
Portables are also separated from the main building. Williamson said this means students have to go outside in order to go to lunch, the library, etc. This, she said, is a cause for concern. It makes it easier for students to wander off and means they have to face extreme weather.
“We make it work because we’re Utahns, right?” Williamson asked. “We’re efficient, we’re innovative, we figure things out, but when we’re trying to do what’s best for kids and teach them in the best ways and have the best structures and what’s safest for kids and schools, you just have to get creative in ways that may not always produce the best results.”
Williams said that whether being creative means shorter lunches to get all students through, unusual class schedules to give all students access to common areas like the library, or having more students in a classroom than ideal, working above capacity just isn’t great for students. “The best instruction can happen when you have the right ratio of teacher to kids.”
If the $139 million bond passes, the district will build two new middle schools, convert an existing middle school to an elementary school, build a new elementary school, and improve safety measures at all of its schools. Thomas added: “That’s just going to catch us up, if you will. We’ll be able to move kids out of portables and back into our classrooms with just a little bit of growth in each of our schools but not a lot to be honest. We’ll be operating most of our schools between 80 and 90 percent.”
In the district, only one-third of the elementary schools offer full-day kindergarten. River Heights is one of the schools that doesn’t, but it isn’t for lack of want or even need. The state offers funding for all-day kindergarten. However, schools that are already functioning over capacity do not qualify for that funding. Williamson said the demand for the program at her school is high, but offering it is just not possible at the time. Building the new schools and making some changes at a few of the existing schools would bring the schools back down under capacity to ensure that all elementary schools could offer full-day kindergarten.
If the bond passes, it will take about three years for all of this to happen. Williamson told ABC4 that they will anxiously await the completion of the construction. Especially now that a new development next to the school will soon bring in 70 new homes. “When you hear single-family homes, you go, ‘Single-family homes usually have kids in them.’ So, we’re expecting it to get even bigger,” she said through a laugh.
With a hefty price tag, many will ask what the bond will cost individual taxpayers. The district ensures that the current tax rate will remain the same. “Our current service debt tax rate will not increase,” Thomas added. “We will leave the rate at where we currently are. What we will do instead is extend our payments over an additional 20 years.”
For more information about what the district hopes to achieve with the bond, click here.