Iron County school board discusses bonds, budgets and critical race theory

File photo of sign in front of Iron County School District offices, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 20, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Iron County School District is seeking the public’s approval to issue more than $60 million worth of general obligation bonds to pay for various school building improvement projects.

Flyer showing Iron County School District’s potential bond projects, June 2021 (Click to enlarge) | Image courtesy of Iron County School District, St. George News / Cedar City News

The district’s proposed list, which was discussed during Tuesday’s regular school board meeting, includes six construction projects aimed at replacing one elementary school and making major improvements to four secondary schools, in addition to building a new transportation facility for the district’s fleet of buses and other vehicles.

The project with the highest price tag is the replacement of the 70-year-old East Elementary School building in Cedar City at an estimated cost of $27.6 million. Officials said the new school is planned to be similar in size and layout to the new North Elementary, which was completed in 2017.

The schools scheduled to undergo major improvements and renovations are Cedar Middle School, Canyon View Middle School, Cedar High School and Parowan High School. To see a copy of the informational flyer outlining the proposed projects, which have a total price tag of approximately $61.9 million, click here.

Board members are tasked with leading the effort to inform the constituents in their respective districts about the bond issue. If the proposal is approved by the school board and meets all the necessary statutory requirements, the issue will appear before voters on the November general election ballot.

“None of this is set in stone,” district business administrator Todd Hess reminded the board members and others in attendance Tuesday night. 

Depending on input received from the voting public between now and the Aug. 19 deadline, the board members may decide to remove or modify any of the projects on the list, or possibly add new ones. The suggested project start dates and other details are also subject to change, district officials noted.

Iron County School District held a similar bond election three years ago, which had asked voters for $92 million. That proposal included not only building a new East Elementary, but replacing South Elementary as well. That 2018 measure failed by a 59% to 41% margin.

Iron County School District offices, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 4, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Hess shared some hypothetical numbers during Tuesday’s meeting, as provided by Zions Bank. He said that if the district were to issue $60 million in bonds in 2022, the projected impact on a $300,000 home would be as follows: the school district’s share of the home’s annual property taxes would go up from $128.72 to $226.56, an increase of $97.84. 

However, he noted, the total of $226.56 after the proposed increase would still be lower than the $241.28 that the same hypothetical property owner would have been paying prior to this year.

The reason, Hess said, is that the district paid off two bonds during the current fiscal year.

“This year, people will see a decrease in their property tax related to debt payments for the school district, because two of those bonds have been paid off,” Hess explained after the meeting. “And then, if we issue more bonds, whether it’s next year or the year after, it’ll increase and go back up, but still not to the levels that they were paying, at least based on those preliminary estimates.”

Critical race theory

In other action on Tuesday, the school board also heard from board member Dave Staheli regarding his own proposed resolution in opposition to the teaching of critical race theory in schools. 

The non-binding measure, which was supported by Staheli and Jeff Corry, ultimately failed by a 3-2 vote. Two of the nay voters nevertheless did express their personal opposition to critical race theory itself, even though they didn’t agree with the wording of Staheli’s resolution as presented. 

Staheli’s proposed resolution, a copy of which can be accessed here, called for the Utah Legislature and Gov. Spencer Cox “to pass and sign legislation prior to the 2021-2022 school year to prohibit critical race theory curriculum and employee training and/or professional development on this and like concepts in Utah’s public education system.”

Board member Dale Brinkerhoff, who cast one of the nay votes, clarified his position by saying, “I don’t like CRT, critical race theory. I don’t like what it does, it promotes censorship, micromanagement, segregation, separation, lack of faith and trust in our faculty and limits diversity and inclusion.” 

Even so, Brinkerhoff said he’d rather see a faculty-led committee monitor curriculum at the district level. 

Also voting nay was Ben Johnson, who said, “I’ll be frank: I am not supportive of critical race theory being taught in our schools. I am not supportive of it being taught in Utah schools, I’m very supportive of the direction that the state school board is beginning to go. However, I do struggle with this particular resolution and the way that it’s phrased.”

Cedar High School, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 4, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Johnson encouraged his fellow board members to familiarize themselves with the relevant sections in the R-277, the section of Utah Administrative Code that governs education.

“I think it would be good for us as a school board to recognize what we support in there and what we agree with in there and get feedback (in) that direction to the state school board,” he said.

However, Staheli said afterward that Iron County schools should be proactively taking the lead on the issue, rather than waiting to take direction from the Utah State Board of Education.

“I contend that the Iron County School Board and other school boards around the state of Utah need to be driving the opposition to critical race theory in our public schools from the county level and representing the values of our constituency in the strongest terms to the state Legislature, the governor, and the state school board,” Staheli said.

Staehli said he plans to make some adjustments to his proposed resolution before bringing it back to the table for reconsideration later.

Other action Tuesday night included:

  • In a 3-2 vote, the board approved a joint liability agreement with Cedar City regarding allowing personal fireworks to be lit off at three school parking lots during the legal dates of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday (July 2-5). The three locations that have been designated are Canyon View High, Cedar High and Iron Springs Elementary. Note: the Cedar City Council approved its side of the agreement the following evening by a 4-0 vote.
  • Following a short public hearing, the board approved both the amended budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 as well as the proposed budget of the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year. Both budgets total approximately $18.5 million in revenue and expenditures.
  • The board also heard from more than one dozen members of the public during the designated comment period. The commenters spoke on various topics, including the Redmen mascot, critical race theory, Suite 360, fireworks liability and GRAMA requests for special education records. 

Additionally, Monica Torres, longtime administrative assistant to outgoing superintendent Shannon Dulaney, paid tribute to her boss, calling her an “incredible and inspired leader” who personified the term “grace under fire.” 

“She has many awards and accolades … but more importantly, her example of kindness and gratitude is second to none,” Torres said of Dulaney, who is retiring.

Torres concluded by mentioning the transition taking place as Dulaney’s successor, Lance Hatch, assumes the position effective July 1.

 “She will be missed by our district office family. And on that note, I’d like to welcome Dr. Hatch to our district office family, and we look forward to working with you.” Torres said.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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