Park City School District Superintendent Ember Conley speaks to a crowd at Park City High School on April 24. Conley is a proponent of a proposed property
Park City School District Superintendent Ember Conley speaks to a crowd at Park City High School on April 24. Conley is a proponent of a proposed property tax increase that would give the district an additional $3 million in revenue. (Park Record File Photo)
The Park City School District is holding a public hearing regarding a proposed property tax increase officials say is crucial to keep up with a spike in student enrollment.

According to information posted on the district's website, pcschools.us, the proposed tax hike would equate to an additional $106.48 annually (from $1,336.45 to $1,442.93) on a $550,000 primary home and $193.60 (from $2,429.90 to $2,623.50) on a $550,000 business or secondary home. The tax is expected to generate $3 million in new revenue for the district if passed.

The hearing, which was originally scheduled for Aug. 19, is now set to be held Sept. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the school district office, 2700 Kearns Blvd. It was delayed after a mistake the county auditor made in the certified tax rate led to incorrect numbers being publicized regarding the amount property owners would pay if the tax is approved.

A release on the school district website states that, on average, the district spends $10,100 per student each year, with the state legislature supplying $2,972 of that. With a district-wide enrollment increase of over 300 students since the start of the 2013-2014 school year, the district "must either reduce education offerings to students or seek to make up the difference in per-pupil spending to maintain the quality of education expected by the parents and students of the district.


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Park City School District Superintendent Ember Conley said that without the increase, the district would be running a deficit within two years. Having previously worked in districts that required budget cuts, Conley said it's of crucial importance that Park City doesn't start down that path.

"I've been in a district where we had to cut 25 percent of our overall budget," said Conley, who is entering her second year as the district's superintendent. "First of all, you start nickel-and-diming every single program. And then you start getting into the big areas of cutting people. And when you look at that, it affects every single layer of structure. It really ruins morale, and when you ruin morale, it affects students."

The influx of students into the district also has created a need for more teachers -- and the salaries that come with them. According to the release, the district proposes to increase the teaching staff by 8.5 full-time equivalents, at a total cost of nearly $876,000.

Conley said the addition of those teachers is necessary to keep teacher-to-student ratios similar to previous years. For instance, Conley thought the district would be reducing class sizes when it added five teachers at Ecker Hill Middle School for this upcoming year, but increased enrollment negated that benefit.

"We're back to thinking, 'OK, did the five teachers even help?'" Conley said, adding that specific enrollment numbers for each school won't be available until about 10 days after school starts on Thursday.

An increase in current teacher compensation is also driving the need for the tax bump, according to the district's release. Healthcare and retirement costs have grown higher than expected when the district finalized 3-year employee contracts in 2012, forcing the property tax increase to come a year earlier than expected.

According to Conley, spending on teacher salaries is the most important way to ensure the quality of the education students receive.

"One of my goals is to make this a premier district in the nation," Conley said. "We have every component to do that, and one of the reasons we have been successful is the way we've supported our teachers. If you look at any school district, 85 percent of their budget is with salaries. And there's study after study that shows in order for us to continue to be excellent, we have to support that."

Conley said she has not heard any negative feedback on the proposed property tax increase, despite having had information about it readily available on the district website. She theorized that is due to residents understanding the value students would see from the tax.

"(The tax is) minimal in comparison to what we would receive back," Conley said. " I came from a community that was not education-minded into a community that is so (education-minded. They know the difference in economic development and citizenship is through education. I can't say enough."

The delay of the hearing is not expected to cause any adverse effects, Conley said. The district was originally concerned it would be in a time crunch to get the tax voted on in time for the county treasurer to send residents their tax bills, which must be returned by Nov. 30. But a new date being set has alleviated those worries.