SALT LAKE CITY — In an attempt to move beyond historical east-west divisions in the Granite School District, the Salt Lake County Council wants new school board precinct boundaries.
The council has asked the Salt Lake County Redistricting Commission to draw districts that run east to west — a significant departure from the board's historical north to south boundaries.
In a letter to the commission, the County Council wrote that the intent of its policy direction is to "move the community beyond an 'east-west divide,' especially as it relates to issues surrounding the education of the community's children."
Kerri Nakamura, adviser to Councilman Jim Bradley, said Council members individually promised to take a more active role in the 2011 school district reapportionment process after the council, in 2007, declined to place on the ballot a proposal split the Granite School District.
According to the letter to the redistricting commission, the council's decision was driven by the fact that west side residents affected by the split could not vote under state law that prescribed the process for dividing a school district. Second, "most east-side residents who contacted the County Council offices in 2007 did not want to create the draconian funding inequities that would have resulted from an east-west split of the Granite District at that time."
At the time, a number of proposals were floated to divide the Granite and Jordan districts over concerns that east-side residents were not adequately represented. In the end, only Jordan School District was divided after a public vote, which led to the creation of Canyons School District. However, state lawmakers passed a law that enabled the Jordan issue to go on the ballot without the Council's say-so.
According to the council's letter, many east-side patrons of Granite School District "remain concerned that their voices are not always heard by the Granite School Board, especially regarding issues of school closures and boundary changes."
Councilman Randy Horiuchi said the council needs to contemplate a more significant fix, such as lobbying the Legislature to change the law to establish at-large school board seats, which is the case on the Council.
Otherwise, he predicted, "You're gonna have this (same) fight 10 years from now, five years from folks wanting to incorporate and have their own school district."
Councilman Michael Jensen, who represents a west-side council district, said he believes it is in the best interest of Granite School District students, patrons and taxpayers to keep the district intact.
The split of the Jordan District "wasn't a good thing." Relationships between the east side and the west side of the Salt Lake Valley suffered as a result, he said.
"I'm willing to make some compromises to keep it together," Jensen said.
Under the current boundaries, precincts for five of seven school board members are largely west of State Street. "With the exception of a few blocks in the northern-most area of the district, a single board member represents all of the area east of Highland Drive.
The Granite School Board has been asked to make intra-district boundary recommendations to the county redistricting commission. It, in turn, will turn over its recommendations to the Council for adoption no later than Dec. 31. The Council's letter makes clear it wants an east-west boundary configuration, especially for east side Precincts 1 and 2, as one option it may consider.
"As soon as we get the data in March, things will roll pretty quickly," Nakamura said.