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Sup with the Sup
Episode 25: Legislative Discussion with Jason Cox

Welcome to this week’s episode of Provo City School District’s What’s Up With the Sup podcast. I am Superintendent Wendy Dau. On this episode, I am joined by our Deputy Superintendent Jason Cox to talk about some of the bills that are currently being discussed in the Utah legislative session. But first, let’s go over our updates.

  • The next school board meeting will be a study session and business meeting on Tuesday, February 13th. Study sessions are held in Boardroom 1 at the District Office and business meetings take place in the Professional Development Center. Both meetings are open to the public and public comment is welcome at the business meeting. The study session will begin at 4 o’clock p. m. and business meeting will begin at 7 o’clock p.m. 
  • We want to make you aware that we are seeking feedback on the priorities for our strategic plan. An email has been sent to all families in Provo City School District asking you to rank and rate what priorities that we need to focus on as we move forward with this three to five year plan. That survey closes today, so please make sure that you fill it out.  
  • Parent teacher conferences are coming up in February. Elementary will be on February 7th through the 9th. High school will be on February 15th and middle school will be on February 20th. Please look for more information to come directly from your school. 
  • Look for the weekly videocast from me every Friday. In this short video, I provide important information and updates about work happening throughout the district.  

Welcome everyone. Today, I am here with Deputy Superintendent Jason Cox, and we are going to be talking about some of the bills that are before the state legislature that really impact education and the Provo City School District.

So thank you for being here. Yeah, 

Jason: Thank you for having me. It’s, it’s fun to be able to get to visit with you. 

Wendy: There’s so many bills that come out for education. Like it seems like every session there’s over 150 education bills. And I really do believe that our legislators come from a well intentioned space, but I think sometimes it’s just, we don’t always know how to solve the problems.

And so we sometimes think. A law is gonna fix it. Um, I don’t know if you’ve if you feel that way. 

Jason: Yeah. I’ve noticed over the last few years just the increasing numbers of education bills and I’m sure that’s kind of the idea behind it that there’s problems and they need to be solved and so we need to enact a law to do that.

And, um, I wonder, uh, you know, as a superintendent, did you know that during the legislative session, you’d be spending as much time as you do on studying the new bills that are being, you know, presented and all the different ideas that are coming up in the legislative session? 

Wendy: I had, I had, I wouldn’t say I had no idea, but I didn’t realize the extent to which I, I needed to be familiar with things and, and recognize the impact, um, of that and how political it can, it can be.

I think what it also demonstrates to me is that when you’re having these bills coming forward, it’s really because people are trying to solve problems. So then it makes me think, what are we not doing as a district to help families solve these problems that they’re going to legislators to get them solved?

And how can we partner with our parents and our community in a more effective way? So that those problems get solved right here in their schools. And, and granted, if there’s still a law, I get it, that sometimes has to happen, but I sure hope that we can be more responsive to the needs of our community. I don’t, I don’t know. What are your thoughts? 

Jason: No, I agree. I think we always want to be very responsive to our community and every community has its own needs. So I think that’s an important part of this. I think the other thing that, you know, I’ve realized over the last number of years is we’ve tried to work more closely with our local legislators, you know, build those relationships so that they can come in and help us and give us ideas about what they’re hearing from the people in our community. Things that we may not be seeing or we may have missed. 

Wendy:  Yeah. I really appreciate that. They have been willing to meet with us and talk with us about what they hear. And then we’ve been able to update them and they’re like, can I share this information? And we’re like, Please do like this is a, this is a problem we’re trying to solve and here’s some of the ideas and, um, and they’ve been really great to get that information out.

So the more we can work together, I think the much better things are going to be in the long run. 

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like  doing that, we’ve been able to be aware of things that our local legislators were working on. So when you come to the session, the legislative session, we’re not as surprised at what someone who lives right in our community might be saying, Hey, we need to change.

And again, that’s helpful. It helps us to start working on it to, to try to see where things that we just don’t see. 

Wendy:  Yeah. That outside perspective is very important. Sometimes when we get locked into that. Organization gets hard to understand maybe what, what other people are seeing that we’re not so.  

Well, let’s dive in and talk about a couple of the bills that I think really impact us.  I know one that has come up quite a bit, uh, has been sponsored by representative Wilcox and, um, it’s a school safety bill, uh, it’s house bill 84 and it has a lot in it, um, and really coming from the intention of trying to make sure that we don’t have a tragedy at one of our schools in Utah, like other states have had, and I really appreciate that it’s a priority, um, of our, of our legislature.

Jason:  Yeah, absolutely. I do too. I, I know that just over my career and the fact that school shootings have increased over time and those types of things, as I’ve driven into work and started getting, messages on days. Sometimes I just think, I hope that’s not, I mean, we always hope it’s never anything to do with student safety.

Wendy: Right. 

Jason: And, um, you know, I know we’ve really tried to be proactive over the last, um, 10 years in our school district about student safety because, and school safety, where we’ve had, um, people come in from, outside agencies come in and do an audit for us to try to tell us these are some things that you could do to to help make your schools safe.  And yet there’s a balance there We have to try not to make our schools feel like they’re so locked down that it makes it uncomfortable for students and parents to feel welcome at our location.

So it’s finding that balance. But I do think, again, this is one of those things where in our community, I think there’s specific needs that we might have that maybe a rural school district would not have. And so I think it would be great if we could kind of continue down that path of having an assessment, maybe figuring out how we could be evaluated on what we’re doing currently.

Wendy: Right.

Jason:  Because that then gives us feedback and allows us to look at where do we prioritize the funds that we have in moving forward and making our next steps to help keep students safe, um,  prevent those negative things that we really are concerned about. 

Wendy:  What’s interesting is one of the pieces of that legislation that I’ve heard from People here in Provo that they’re not in favor of is this idea of an armed guardian in every school, and in some cases, if you can’t find someone, then it would be a volunteer. And that makes me nervous. And, and individuals that have spoken with me, it makes them nervous that this is, even though there’s training that would be tied to it, just this idea that this is a, this isn’t a police officer who’s been through extensive training and, um, that type of thing.

And are there better ways that we can maybe utilize those resources to help keep our schools safe? I do appreciate where people are coming from to  try to make our schools safer places. I don’t think that is the concern that we’re expressing. The concern is the way in which, um, we’re going about it  and is, is this the best way to do that? 

Jason: Yeah, I would agree. You know, I have a couple of family members that are in law enforcement and they have talked about how they’ve never had to shoot at someone, right? And so the thought of someone, even with their extensive amount of training and the concern that they would have of having to do that, I think that’s just a very realistic concern to say, you know, we’re.  I think if we’re asking someone from law enforcement to come and be a part of us and help keep us safe, that makes a lot of sense because they have the authority. They have the training. They have all those things behind them that help support them in making a great decision.

And I think it’s just one of those cases where we don’t really know how someone’s going to react under pressure if they get in that situation where someone’s come in and made really bad threats and are putting people in harm. How are they going to react and I think that’s the kind of the bottom line concern to it all.

Wendy: Yeah, I think you’re, I think you nailed it. And I think we’re lucky in Provo because we have such a good relationship with our Provo City Police Department and they’re so supportive of what we do  in our schools that we’re fortunate.  You know, there are some places where you’re not going to get, you don’t, there isn’t an officer that’s within a distance that can actually respond effectively to an emergency. So I can see where people are coming from, but I do think maybe we need to brainstorm this a little bit more and think through this a little more carefully. 

A couple of our board members suggested the idea, kind of what you said, of kind of going through this rubric and then self assessing where you’re at as a district and then creating a plan for how you’re moving forward. And, um, and I appreciate that because it does recognize that that districts are in different places. 

I know that the state is coming to visit Provo City School District because of all of the things that we have implemented and prioritized for safety. And you could probably speak a little more to that since you’ve been here longer than I have.

Jason:  Yeah, actually, we have had, like I mentioned, we’ve had people come in, outside agencies, actually a couple of them, over, over time, do an evaluation of where we are, give us back feedback and give us like a 10 year plan of how we could improve and you know that what you’re uh mentioning as far as the state and what our school board members have said is you know asking for this rubric this this kind of evaluation of where we are and then what we would want to do next. I really think that would be helpful to every school district because I don’t think we all start from the same place and I go back to our communities are different. I think there’s different needs Based on who you serve in your community.

Wendy:  Yeah. School in downtown Salt Lake City is a very different space than a very rural school in Southern Utah. And so recognizing that becomes really important. 

Well, let’s move on and talk about another one of the bills. There are a couple of bills that are actually out there that are meant to kind of control how much we can collect in taxes.

In terms of bonding or lease revenue bonds, or if a community disagrees with the school board’s decision on certain things tied to funding of capital facilities, there could be referendums and  just trying to work with legislators on that. I understand where they’re coming from. They’re really trying to make sure that our citizens are not overburdened by taxation. 

I mean, we can see states where that has happened and they’re losing people, you know, and they’re coming here. So I appreciate that. But you’ve been in the district for a long time. So talk with us a little bit about some of those challenges that we’ve had as a district in terms of Facilities and how we’ve tried to meet those needs and how this might actually make it harder to do that.

Jason:  Yeah. Uh, so a number of years ago when the school board started looking at wanting to make some, uh, updates and changes to the schools there was some work to go out again and try to have engineers and others look at the schools and give a rating of their safety and where they are in their use over time. Some of that kind of immediately said, hey, we’ve got to make some changes for safety’s sake. Again, for student safety, we’ve got to maybe rebuild some buildings. Um, and the hard part of that is, you know, a lot of what we’re talking about today is fiscal responsibility. It’s about having trust from your community and building those good relationships, having very transparent communication.

I think in that initially the community definitely felt like, yes, many of these buildings do need to be rebuilt because they are unsafe. They had cement ceilings in them that were somewhat not reinforced and different things like that. Right. And so those were of course, top on top of the list and they were, uh, rebuilt quite quickly.

But over time, as we get deeper into that list of schools that have issues there starts to become this concern from the community, which is understandable, about the tax that that costs them as a family.  And so we start to come to this point where there’s still needs and yet the community is tired of the taxation.

I think there’s a lot of parts to this. One piece is making sure that we work really closely with the community over timing of all bonds and expectations, asks for more money. Because if we are fiscally responsible, we’re really smart with working with them, I don’t think we get back to that same place we were when we, when in my career, we first started looking at these buildings and we realized, wow, there’s seven buildings that need to be rebuilt fairly soon based on student safety. 

And I do think that’s the other part of this is we have to help the community know that if we have 20 buildings in the school district, 20 school sites  over time, we have to have a renewal cycle where we’re approaching this rebuild and we’re doing it so that it doesn’t come all at once on the community and cost them so much.

But at the same time, it’s something we need to do to provide the best education for students, help them be safe.  You know, that’s just a little history of how we get to this place. And now I don’t think we’re the only community that’s facing that, right? There’s a lot of communities that are either have had bond issues where they, the community said, I don’t want to do that anymore.  I’m pushing back because it just costs us so much. And so this legislation tries to address that. To some extent by saying there’s a cap on what the school district can just go out and bond for. And, you know, again, I think  in all of this, it comes back to us helping the community by being as transparent as we can be, communicating about it.

And, you know, this legislation, I think that it’s very well intended. Uh, I think there might be cases where school districts get in a place where I don’t know how they would rebuild otherwise because buildings cost so much and the cap in this is 30 million. That doesn’t do a lot at a high school at this point.

I mean, that’s a sad thing to say. But it really doesn’t change a lot if you only have 30 million to work with, doesn’t address the issues? And so that’s that would be my concern just on the numbers of the cap and those types of things. 

Wendy:  I would agree. I think a lot of districts use a lease revenue bond Like if a regular bond has not passed so like if you’re going to go for 150 million dollar bond. That fails, then you use these lease revenue bonds to go in and kind of do it in phases and, or you’ll use truth in taxation methods to get the money that you need.  And there’s all of this that’s coming back and suggesting, well, it doesn’t matter that the school board has voted in this way. We’re going to send all of these pieces of legislation back to the voters.  In my mind, when I think about, you know, I’m a history teacher at heart. So when I think about we’re a Republic, you’re electing representatives, they represent these constituents and, and they vote in that process.

And yes, while there are referendums that can happen of legislation, even at the state level, it’s not every single piece of legislation that’s going to come up that way. And so I think we need to be conscientious about, are we actually destroying local control and local decision making because those voters will make their intentions known if they disagree with it the next time that school board member is up for election.

And so I feel a little bit worried that we’re trying to dismantle the authorities of school boards to be able to do what they need to do, that’s best for their community. It worries me greatly when I think about buildings like Timpview high school, you know, and trying to think about how we still need to continue that construction process.

What is that going to look like? What is the cost? But it’s our job to make sure that students are safe, and so how do we continue to do that and how do we support our Dixon neighborhood to make sure that because we relocated a school, that area does not become a blight upon that neighborhood, but it becomes something that really enriches it because we have a stewardship to Provo City.  And I think these things are really important. When you’re just looking at the bottom line, it’s hard to capture that sometimes, so I’m hoping that we can work with legislators and help them and maybe, you know, those conversations will help me understand better, like, where’s this coming from?  What’s the concern? And maybe hopefully come to a better agreement about that.

Jason:  And I think you bring up a great example. We recently had those meetings with the Dixon community about the future of Dixon. It was actually, they were open to the whole city of Provo, of course, to have people come and give comment,, because all the district buildings are really City buildings, right? They are  for use and to support our entire city.  They do affect their individual communities a little bit more, but it was, it was great to see the people who came out and to hear their input. And, and what you’re describing is, we need to do what we’ve been talking about. We need to rebuild trust there.  We need to be transparent. We need to communicate well with them. 

I feel like everyone was well intended when the things happened that have caused the frustrations, right? Let’s rebuild schools for safety, for school safety.  Now, how that all comes together is the part where I think we need to be better about hearing the community and understanding where they want the building, what they’d like, those kinds of things. And so I think we’ve started a good, some good steps to rebuild trust and to be transparent and open and hearing that feedback again.

Wendy:  I appreciated several constituents who suggested, you know, have a long range plan, like don’t just plan for the next thing and, and prioritize and then provide a rationale for what that looks like and be just really transparent about why is this a priority over this and what need is this filling and then if something changes to just be really upfront about why it changed and what we need help with. 

And I think that’s an important way to look at it.  I think they really do want to partner with us. And I think sometimes if we’re just like, just leave the decision making to us, that doesn’t help them to be involved in it and to have ownership in. In schools, which are so central to everything in our community. 

Jason: Absolutely.

Wendy:  It wouldn’t be a legislative session without a sensitive materials bill. At least that’s what it feels like in the last few years.  So let’s talk about it.  And I think there’s a couple of even substitutions that have come in even since we’ve been reviewing some of this, but what do you think is the underlying issue of these bills? Like, what is happening here that didn’t happen 20 years ago?

Jason:  Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that some of what’s behind this is that the time that we live in.  We have, our students have an accessibility to things that they may never have had before, right? We try to provide devices for every student. We try to give them access to all this information and in that, there’s things that are inappropriate and that students shouldn’t come across and shouldn’t be introduced to.

And so, I think there’s a lot of things that lead to wanting to protect that sanctity of school, that place where things like pornography are definitely not introduced and not accessible. And so I think again, I,  as an educator, I feel completely supportive of that idea. We don’t want that in our schools.

We don’t want students to be introduced to inappropriate things. And, and with that said, I think there’s been some good measures over the last number of years that have been put in place to try to help us with that. There was some legislation a few years ago that talked about filtering on our systems and those types of things.

And even helping make sure that employees are not accessing inappropriate materials. There’s, a lot of levels to this. And I think that  moving forward, sometimes there’s people who are invited into our schools who are there to present things. Just different things that we want people from the community or from companies to come in and share with students because it can help students see something from a different perspective. Now when that happens, they don’t always share the most appropriate things unless we prepare them, unless we set some really, you know, clear guidelines and expectations. And I do think, again, that’s what this legislation is getting after.  It’s to say, let’s make sure that  we’re not allowing outside people to come in and present something that we, you know, wouldn’t feel comfortable presenting ourselves. 

And, you know, again, I, I don’t, I don’t want to say it’s always on only outside people. We have teachers and other, uh, educators who are trying to be creative in what they help present.  And even in transitioning. You know, say they’re presenting something on their laptop and they’re trying to present a new topic and switch over to something else. And all of a sudden, something that they didn’t think about was displayed on the laptop. So there’s so many layers to this 

I think  we don’t want books to be accessible to students that have pornographic material. We don’t want electronic things that students can get to through the internet or other ways to be that kind of influence on students. And so, uh, I think this again is a place where we want to work with our local legislators to say, how do we look at that together?

Because sometimes the bills mention things that almost seem like we don’t have that level of concern about pornography, like I just mentioned. And I’m not sure there’s any district out there that would want that kind of negative influence, you know, and that’s not a criticism. It’s just saying. I believe we could be more collaborative to try to say, here’s the area we see the concern in on the education side, help us view what you’re receiving from our community members, from our parents and students that they may see as a concern and let’s work collaboratively to address that in a bill.

Wendy:  It was interesting at the Utah School Boards Association, President Reese from BYU spoke, and he talked about how education has lost some trust from the public and really challenged us as educators to rebuild that and that part of that is, really trying to come to a better understanding of one another.

And I think one of the pieces that’s really important as I’ve talked with parents is they just want to be aware of what’s happening with their child. Like they don’t want to send their child to school and then it’s like, nope, you get to know nothing about what’s going on here. And, we can’t operate that way.

And so I often think about, are there ways where we can arrive at the same protections that might not be as punitive where we really are partnering with parents either through better notification systems, a more transparent process about how a book ends up in a library. How does that even get chosen?  Who gets to make that decision? And explaining that to parents and helping them understand that process.  Because it’s a lot easier to set up the process on the front end than it is to go in and remove a book on, on the back end. And so saying, okay, if that’s your concern, let’s address that then.  Let’s address, yeah, your child might not be allowed to check out that book, but what’s preventing them from going in at lunch and reading that book.  And it’s like, well, there are other things we can do to help mitigate that.  And so I think it’s just about having those conversations, but definitely that rebuilding of trust becomes really important.  

 I know one of the concerns that we have, as several districts have expressed, is this bill makes it so that once three school districts ban a book, it pulls it, um, completely from every single district.  And I just think our districts are so different and there needs to be an age appropriateness that’s also tied to this.  But it concerns me too, in the sense that I feel like that then that book maybe needs to go to the state board of education and be reviewed by elected officials that represent the entire state at that point.  

Like I get what they’re getting at but maybe there’s a more creative way to do so where we’re using the institutions and the elected officials that are already in place to do that and maybe trusting our school boards to make good decisions about these things, because they are like, right, they’re living right in our neighborhoods.

So those were just some of the thoughts that I had about the sensitive materials bill.  And I’m sure there’ll be more amendments as we go along with this.

Jason:  I like that process you described. I like the idea of, you know, if it has been banned or addressed in districts, then maybe it rises to the level of the state school board, then reviewing the book to see whether or not it’s something that the state school board would approve. 

Altogether says, no, we don’t really feel like that’s something we would agree with having in our schools. And yet again, I love that we’re continuing that control based on the people who’ve been elected, like you mentioned.  

For years I’ve heard the message from the state school board about how they value local control and they ask the school boards at each LEA, each different school district to then review things, create policies, those types of things. So I really like addressing or potentially creating processes that have that step by step where different groups who’ve been elected get to review the materials.

Wendy:  I also really feel like this is, you know, a belief that we have in the state of Utah in general, which is; we solve a lot of our problems quite well. Like, this is a very well run state. I think so anyway, and, and I think we have a lot of evidence to suggest that. And a lot of it comes from the state saying, let us handle these problems rather than the federal government stepping in to handle these problems.

And I think you’re seeing us at a local level saying the same thing, like, let us handle the problems that are coming up in our communities and trust us to do that and communicate with us when those, when those things are coming forward, because we might not know. And so then, like we said, at the very beginning, legislator goes in, wants to help solve a problem because that’s what they do that’s, that’s their job. And there might be a more effective way to do it at a more localized level. So it actually meets the needs of that community. 

Any other bills that, that you’re watching?  

Jason:  That’s a great question. You know, every day I think I’m getting a list of about 10. I know, right? But, I feel really good about reading through and getting through, so I don’t know that I have another, any other specific ones.

I read one yesterday that I was thought was kind of interesting, the, the request to post the 10 commandments.  So I thought that was an interesting, uh, bill.

Wendy:  There’s definitely some, um, different ones. I do feel like that through this process, somehow we as educators need to reach out to our communities and rebuild what I feel like somewhere, somehow, we’ve lost some trust there, and I hope we can really build that back, because I am firmly of the belief that public education becomes so important in a democratic society.

And when public education is no longer seen as that, as that vehicle through which democracy survives, then that’s when we’re in trouble. And so we need to be doing better on our end to be opening up that communication and being really transparent about our processes and cooperating and collaborating with one another.  I think that’s what I’m getting out of a lot of this anyways, my takeaway.

Jason: I would agree. And I was going to say something along those lines, I asked you before about the amount of time that you would be spending during your legislative session. But I want to say thank you to the people, there are a lot of people at USBE who do go to these meetings and then send them to us.  

The information I receive usually isn’t directly from the legislator.  It’s from someone who attends the meetings and then sends me a copy and wants me to be aware of  a new bill that’s being presented. And so we have people from the teaching and learning department from different departments throughout the state, the HR department that I’ve been associated with that just send us different bills and say, please read this and give us your feedback, give us some input on it.

And so I appreciate that work. Again, there’s a lot of people trying to be more collaborative, more aware and, and participate more in this process .  

Wendy:  And I just want to give a huge shout out to our representation in Provo city. Like, I feel like we are super lucky to have the individuals that we do that represent us because I think they really are trying to engage in a dialogue.

Not a debate, but really trying to communicate and understand where we’re coming from . Those that reach out and, you know, when we reach out to them and say, Hey, we have some concerns and they immediately call or they schedule a phone call. That means a lot because it demonstrates they’re trying to be responsive and, and just gain a greater understanding of things.

And that’s really how we can get good work done. So absolutely. Thanks so much for joining me. And this was kind of fun.  The legislative session stresses me out, but it was fun to talk with you about these bills and how we could be better as an organization and serving our community. 

Jason:  You bet. I actually, I don’t ever feel like an expert about any of the bills.

I know once they pass, I try to do a good job of getting the policies and everything up to date for our school district to help us just be on top of what it is we’re being asked to do. But it is interesting and kind of fun to talk about what we do see during this timeframe, because there’s so many bills and so, so much work that goes behind putting them together. And again, it’s an amazing process. 

Wendy:  It is. And it also causes us to reflect, why is this happening? What can we be doing better? And I think if it’s helping us get to that space, that’s always a positive thing. And if we can keep looking at it through that lens, I think that will keep us moving forward and progressing.

So thanks again. Appreciate it. It’s always great to talk with you. 

Starting on Monday you can find information about education bills in the Utah State Legislature by logging on to our website, and there will be a link that will guide you to an overview of each of these bills. You can also go to to get information about your legislators. Also about different bills and their status and committees, where they are in the voting process. And all of that information is posted on the legislature’s website as well, and is super helpful. 

Thank you everyone for joining me for this episode of What’s Up with the Sup. As always, all episodes will be posted on the district website, YouTube, and anywhere you get your podcasts. If you have any topics or questions you would like us to discuss on the podcast, please email us at 

Please join us next week for an all new episode of What’s Up With The Soup. I will be speaking with Bella Leitchi, a senior at Provo High who has gone from student to teacher as she has developed a curriculum, entirely in Portuguese, aimed at educating teenagers about intimate partner abuse. Until next time! 

Shauna Sprunger
  • Coordinator of Communications
  • Shauna Sprunger