Students who live in Utah and have been attending school in Arizona were recently told they could no longer be bussed across state lines, according to Arizona law. An injunction by the Navajo Nation made it possible for students to finish out the current school year.
The district discussed the possibility of an IGA with Red Mesa School District Superintendant Spencer Singer. Arizona law states that the Utah district would have to pay tuition for students to attend school in Arizona.
Wright said San Juan County schools are not filled to capacity and can serve the Utah students who now attend Red Mesa schools. Wright said the San Juan School District would like to have the students in local schools.
Wright questioned if it is feasible for Red Mesa to educate Utah students with no funding. Singer suggested there may be a way for San Juan School District to collect funds and pay for student tuition in Arizona. Board members said they did not see a compelling or logical reason for students to cross state lines when funding is such an issue.
Singer said he understood the position of the board but was there to advocate for the students who want the option to attend school in Arizona.
Board member Bill Boyle said, “If I get $10,000 to educate a child and have to take a portion of that and pay it to someone else, fundamentally I don’t think we have the right to do that.”
Board members said that if parents in Utah want their students to attend in Arizona, they should have the option to pay and send their kids where they want.
Board member Debbi Christiansen said, “We have an obligation to tax payers. Say we have an elementary and a high school that these students can go to, but we take tax money and send it to Arizona. It seems a highly inflammatory thing to do to the tax payers of Utah. I don’t know how you can explain or justify or rationalize it in any way at all.”
Superintendant Wright said the problem with Utah students in Arizona schools did not become a problem until Red Mesa began sending busses 50 miles into Utah to pick up students. Wright said that if they would have left it just two or three miles from the border, it would have not become a problem, but bussing 150 kids to the school from deep in Utah became a problem.
Boyle said he has always advocated to allow parental choice, assuming that everyone has a funding mechanism on a level playing field. “But from my perspective, it seems like you have lost your funding option to provide that competitive service. In effect, you are asking us to fund it. We have been a competitor and there is nothing wrong with competition, but we can’t be competing with you and also paying you every time a student chooses your school instead of ours.”
The board expressed a willingness to allow Utah students to attend school in Red Mesa but said the San Juan District would not pay. Singer said that without an IGA, they would not enroll Utah students who show up to Red Mesa schools. He said it would impact Red Mesa schools but they intend to follow the rules.
Board President Nelson Yellowman questioned the need for Utah families to send students to Red Mesa. Yellowman said that people who were plaintiffs in lawsuits that brought about the creation of the southern schools are some of those who send their children to school in Arizona.
Yellowman said that parents need to understand the laws that the school district must follow. He also pointed out that San Juan School District schools have the highest graduating percentage versus schools in New Mexico and Arizona.
“We are a quality school,” said Yellowman, “I wish those parents down south could understand that. It’s not about money, it’s about quality.”