Give board credit for weathering budget storm | ParkRecord.com

Give board credit for weathering budget storm

School district sees shortfall turn to windfall

After a three-year siege of high-level resignations, budget shortfalls and construction fallout, the five members of the Park City Board of Education may finally be able emerge from their bunker.

Earlier this month the board learned from the Summit County auditor that the tax revenue decline predicted last February had done an about-face, thanks to tax revenues from new construction and a stronger-than-usual rate of collection.

Phew.

Instead of drawing down the school district’s emergency reserve fund this year, it looks like the Park City School District could end the coming fiscal year with an unexpected $4 million surplus. That means all of the handwringing about cutting programs and reducing staff levels is over and taxpayers don’t need to worry about a school district tax hike at least not this year.

News of the unexpected windfall, understandably, may take a while to sink in. Shell-shocked board members who had the unpleasant task of informing patrons about February’s dire budget projections are probably just as skeptical about the reversal of fortunes as the taxpayers. And it is likely that conspiracy theorists in the community will have a heyday theorizing about how millions of dollars could vanish and reappear so randomly.

Unfortunately, that is the challenge faced by school officials throughout Utah. Districts must begin setting their July-to-June fiscal budgets right after the New Year, long before county auditors and treasurers know much they will collect in property taxes.

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For regular people, it would be like trying to figure out whether to buy a new car without knowing how much is on your paycheck.

That guessing game, whether property values will go up or down, how many students will enroll next fall and whether the state legislature or the federal government will dream up some new tax cuts or program requirements is a constant challenge for local schools, one that this board has worked especially hard to mitigate.

Even as some citizens and district employees raise an eyebrow at this week’s unexpected news about the district’s finances, school board members deserve credit for the way they invited the public in to address potential budget cuts and their willingness to serve the district even after the superintendent, business administrator, curriculum director and high school principal bailed out.

As local school kids begin to hear the first back-to-school rumblings, it is nice to know they will begin the school year with a little money in the bank.

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