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‘Citizen group’ looks to start new school district in Draper

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The tipping point for the idea to split up Canyons School district came after the 2020 census results showed Draper’s population had surpassed 50,000, which makes it eligible to create a new school district under Utah law.

A “citizen group” is looking to create a new public school district in Utah.

The group is a collection of parents and business owners in Draper led by Paul McCarty, a former Canyons School District Board member who was involved in its 2007 split from the Jordan School District.

They’re proposing another break, splintering five schools in Draper off from Canyons to create Draper City School District. It would be Utah’s 42nd public district.

Canyons is currently the seventh largest district in the state, according to data from the Utah State Board of Education. It oversees 45 schools and more than 33,000 students. Rough estimates McCarty provided in a presentation Wednesday show the new district would have about 6,000 students, and one teacher for every 17 students instead of Canyons’ 21.

“A smaller school district equals a better school performance,” McCarty said. “Canyons School District is a very good school district. I feel like we could be even greater.”

Proposed benefits of the new district

Creating a smaller district would make it more manageable and responsive to parents, McCarty said, which is the main reason for the proposal. It’s been a conversation he said he and others have been having for years. The tipping point came after the 2020 census results showed Draper’s population had surpassed 50,000, which makes it eligible to create a new school district under Utah law.

He said another benefit is that Draper residents’ tax dollars would stay in the community. Draper students make up about 16% of the Canyons population, the presentation noted, but families there provide 25% of the district’s property tax revenue. That revenue could help support additional offerings in the new district, like dual-immersion programs and specialized arts programs.

“The more I look into it, the more I see the potential,” said Jennifer Baer, McCarty’s daughter and a mother in the Canyons district who is also behind the effort.

Given Draper’s high property values, the new district could likely forgo federal funding and the requirements it comes with, McCarty said. That would give parents more control over what’s taught, in addition to fewer administrators. But he said the lost revenue shouldn’t negatively impact Canyons, as Utah’s public education funding system provides more state dollars for districts with lower property values. But it’s not clear yet exactly what the impacts would be.

Parent response

Parents at the meeting appeared divided on whether they thought it was a good idea, with some eager about the prospect and others skeptical of the motivations behind it.

Shalisse Smith, a Draper mom whose kids go to Canyons school, said she was undecided, but found the meeting informative. She said she sees Draper’s growth as something that needs to be addressed.

“I want to make sure that whatever is being done, that it's really in the best interest and being properly looked at and addressed in a professional way,” she said.

Other parents said the proposal is worth examining, but found the process through which the meeting was announced and held questionable. Some found out about the effort only through a Draper City Government social media post — not the organizers — and felt attendance at the meeting was arbilitraily capped to those who had RSVP’d in advance.

“This seems like a ‘control the narrative at all costs’ effort,” said parent Chad Smith, who is not related to Shalisse. “That reminds me of multilevel marketing, where you want to divide and conquer and get people in small groups.”

Parental control

The presentation did not specifically address curriculum issues that have become hot topics nationwide. Some parents Wednesday wondered whether those were one of the main drivers behind the effort.

Chad Iverson, a Draper parent who also served on the Canyons board, pointed out that several of the parents involved were also affiliated with Utah Parents United, a controversial group that has been leading the efforts against Critical Race Theory and removing books from school libraries.

McCarty said while some parents supportive of the new district are also members of the group, the proposal was not their initiative.

“We've got Democrats [involved], we've got Republicans,” he said. “We've got progressives, we've got conservatives. It's all over the spectrum. It's really not fair to label this as a UPU-only program.”

Next steps

McCarty said there is more work to do to better understand the impacts of the move, starting with commissioning a feasibility study from an independent firm. He said some of the local businesses involved have pledged to pay for it.

Organizers also need to gather nearly 4,000 signatures from Draper residents — 15% of the voting-eligible population — before it they can get a proposal on the ballot. Draper city officials said both the study and “overwhelming” public support would be needed before placing it on a ballot, though the group could also bypass the city through a citizens initiative petition process with the county.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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