Legislative session carries few surprises for Park City School District
Utah’s legislative session is always a busy time for leaders of the Park City School District, who frantically try to keep pace with bills that may affect students.
The developments this year seemed to be mostly positive. Todd Hauber, the district’s business administrator and one of its main legislative liaisons, was pleased that the 2016 session wrapped up last week with little cause for frustration.
Perhaps the best news was that legislators passed an education budget that includes a 3-percent increase to the weighted pupil unit (WPU), the device the state uses to fund public education on a per-student basis.
The increase was greater than the 2.2- or 2.3-percent bump district leaders were anticipating. For Hauber, the move was encouraging, as Utah is dead last in the nation in per-student funding. Hauber said he isn’t sure the state will ever catch up with the rest of the country, but it’s crucial to keep pace with the rising costs of education.
"We’re very excited that there’s 3-percent increase in the value of the WPU," he said. "That’s a positive signal. Especially when we see additional revenues becoming available to the state Legislature through income tax — as long as those dollars are being prioritized to education, that’s a good sign. The costs of education continue to climb. As long as those increases can keep pace or even exceed those inflationary pressures, that’s a good sign."
Other legislation Park City educators focused on included S.B. 244, which would have funneled a greater percentage of state income taxes to poorer school districts at the expense of smaller increases to the statewide WPU. The bill passed the Senate but failed in the House.
Hauber said the bill was flawed, but that giving help to less wealthy districts is a commendable concept. He is hopeful the funding mechanisms included in the bill will continue to be studied.
"That’s worthy of further review," he said.
Also failing to gain the necessary support was S.B. 45, which sought to eliminate criminal penalties for parents of chronically tardy students. The bill was aimed at ensuring parents don’t get in trouble for taking their students out of class for legitimate reasons, but Hauber explained that only the most troublesome offenders risk penalties under the current system. Park City School District leaders worried that the bill would take away a tool to help hold students and parents responsible for attendance.
"In the end, the current statues the way they stand are good public policy," Hauber said. "The truancy laws really only effect that really small group of individuals who are really fighting against the system. These are parents that have been contacted multiple times and are refusing to meet with districts. They’re the parents that aren’t looking after their children."
Bills the Legislature did pass include two that pertain to SAGE testing. H.B. 200 makes it so 11th graders no longer have to participate in SAGE testing, while H.B. 201 eliminates SAGE testing as a teacher evaluation tool.
Hauber said the district was not opposed to either bill, both of which were awaiting Governor Gary Herbert’s signature to become law.
As a whole, the session was a success and bore few surprises, said Hauber, though he is still sifting through some of the bills the Legislature took action on late last week.
"I didn’t see anything," he said, "that’s going to fundamentally change education here."
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