Orem voters emphatically say no to Proposition 2’s new school district
Votes are still being counted, but unofficial election results show Orem’s ballot initiative to break away from the Alpine School District has failed. As of Nov. 9, 71.59% voted against Proposition 2 and 28.41% voted in favor.
If the proposition had passed, Orem schools would have left Alpine, the state’s largest school district, to form an Orem-only school district. Residents have talked about leaving the Alpine School District for almost two decades. The latest iteration of that conversation with Proposition 2 has been a contentious issue for the city.
Two political issues committees formed to support the proposed split, Orem’s Future and Orem Parents for Better Education. Another political issues committee, Stronger Together, opposed the split. As of Oct. 27, the two pro-split groups had received a combined $327,724 in contributions and spent $250,874.48, according to their latest financial disclosure reports. Stronger Together received $79,136.70 and spent $61,937.79.
Aerwyn Whitlock is a founding member of Stronger Together and all six of her kids have attended Orem schools in the Alpine School District. On election night, she was with most of her advisory board members waiting for results to trickle in. Whitlock said she felt nervous, but was not surprised when the first batch showed a majority of voters opposed the split.
“There were lots of cheers, lots of hugs, lots of happy tears,” she said. “And kind of, for a little bit, it was kind of like we were numb because it was so unbelievable that something we’d worked on so long was finally done.”
To Whitlock, the results showed that Orem residents want more of a voice when big decisions are being made for the community. There are some Stronger Together members who are in favor of splitting off from Alpine but weren’t happy with the way city leaders handled Proposition 2. Whitlock thinks city leaders should’ve had more conversations with the Alpine School Board, educators and families about what they want before deciding to put the split on the ballot.
“I’m not saying they should poll the city for every decision because that’s pointless,” Whitlock said. “Elected officials are supposed to represent us. I think that’s another message that was pretty strongly sent, that a lot of people don’t feel like this proposition represented the city.”
Leading up to election night, Orem Mayor David Young had encouraged residents multiple times to vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 2, in favor of the split. After the mayor and three city council members passed a resolution stating council support for splitting Alpine, some residents complained to the Lt. Governor’s Office.
Young attributed Prop 2’s loss to misinformation and confusion.
“I think it was really hard for people to really get the big picture,” Young said. “You had two different sides saying pretty much exactly the opposite thing.”
Because opponents and proponents were putting out conflicting information about how a split would affect students and whether it would raise taxes, Young thinks voters who were confused defaulted to voting “no.”
“Splitting a school district is a pretty significant decision, so I don’t want to just do that without feeling like I’m completely in control of understanding what’s going on,” Young said.
Like Whitlock, Young has heard from residents who believe the Alpine School District needs to split but didn't like the way this issue was handled. The mayor, however, feels the city got as much community involvement and input as it could within the limited timeframe.
The city council and mayor voted early this year to conduct an Orem School District feasibility study. After receiving the results of that study in July, the mayor and city council then voted 4-3 to put the issue on the ballot for the November election.
“In a perfect world, you would take longer and you would have more involvement and you would have more input,” Young said.
For Young, Proposition 2 was an urgent issue because of Alpine School District’s $595 million bond that wasalso on the ballot. According to unofficial results, 53.80% voted against the bond and 46.20% in favor.
Both Young and Whitlock agreed the debate over Proposition 2 was contentious. Young is confident the city will recover and thinks the friction stemmed from two different stories told about what splitting the school district would do.
“And so my hope is that, as we go forward and we figure out what the real facts are and we work together, you know, we can overcome this,” he said. “I think there just has to be good faith efforts on all sides to get to that point.”
Whitlock said Proposition 2 created a rift that will need to be healed. She said people on both sides of the argument were saying “some pretty nasty things” about others during the course of this debate. After that, everyone will need to sit down and have honest conversations about why they voted the way they did.
“Why did you push so hard for this?” she said. “What are you feeling like is not happening that we can help make happen?”
For Mayor Young, the Orem School District feasibility study and studying Proposition 2 revealed problems that exist in Orem schools and the Alpine School District. Concerns like school building safety, the academic success of Orem students and how the district spends money. Right now, Young doesn’t know how those problems will be fixed.
“We've just been through a difficult conversation. I'm glad we had it because it's brought out a lot of things,” he said. “But now we've got to start a conversation. We need to figure out the best ways to come back together and work together to come up with the best solutions.”
Young still thinks splitting the district is a good idea, but he doesn’t know when the city will explore the issue again.
“It really depends on what people want,” he said.