Park City School District tax notice to county not what it may seem
The Park City Board of Education voted last week to give notice to the county courthouse that it may call for a Truth in Taxation hearing later this year, a required step prior to raising property taxes. But, school leaders say, residents should not take it as a signal that the Board has decided to increase taxes.
The vote was in response to S.B 38 and H.B. 193, identical bills under consideration in the Utah Legislature that seek to change the way the state collects funding for charter schools. The bills would impose a new local property tax to fund charter schools, replacing the current system that forces school districts to give a portion of their tax levies to the state for charters.
Todd Hauber, business administrator for the Park City School District, said the bills are not designed to bring in new revenue, so residents would pay the same amount of taxes as they do in the current system. Likewise, school districts, which would reduce their local levies, would reap the same tax revenue.
"It’s just changing who’s imposing the tax and how it is directed to charter schools," he said. "It’s kind of neutral. It creates an opportunity for transparency for charter schools and for taxpayers to see how much of their tax dollar is supporting charter schools statewide."
But the Board’s vote to inform Summit County that it may eventually hold a Truth in Taxation hearing stems from a clause in the bills that would bar a school board from raising its local tax levy in 2016 unless it had given public notice by March 4. Hauber said the clause may be designed to prevent school districts from justifying raising taxes to make up for the revenue they will no longer collect for charter schools — revenue they currently can’t touch anyway.
"There are legislators who are concerned that there are school districts in the state that may use that to say, ‘No, (the bill) is not net zero — we actually lost revenue,’ which isn’t true," he said.
But the March 4 requirement put the Board in a bind. It is not slated to adopt a budget for the 2016-2017 school year until June, and it hasn’t yet determined if it needs to raise taxes to balance the budget.
Last week’s Truth in Taxation notice was, essentially, a way for the Board to keep all its options open if it determines later in the budget process that it needs more revenue. Hauber said it did not signal that the Board is more likely to raise taxes.
"Having revenue tools taken away from us for other reasons didn’t make sense," Hauber said. " It’s an insurance policy, if you will. Hopefully we don’t need to go there, but if we do, we didn’t want this legislative action to restrict us."
As of Tuesday morning, S.B. 38 had passed in the Senate and was being reviewed by the House Rules Committee. The House had voted to pass H.B. 193, and it had been sent to the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. Hauber said he expects one of the bills to become law.
Those aren’t the only bills the district is closely following as the legislative session winds to a close. Some, such as S.B. 244, would impact how much money poorer districts receive. Another, S.B. 45, would eliminate criminal penalties for the parents of truant students.
Hauber said supporters of S.B. 45, which passed the Senate and is awaiting a second reading in the House, believe it would prevent state overreach and give parents control over their children’s education. Park City educators, however, are worried it would harm students whose parents don’t take responsibility for their education.
"It takes a tool away from school districts to help parents become more involved in their children’s education and getting them to school," Hauber said. " The scenario that is of real challenge are those parents who just don’t care anymore and are purposefully avoiding the school district or purposefully not ensuring their child makes it to school. That’s what the (current) law is for, that very small sliver of poor parenting."
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The Park City School District offices were inadvertently locked, but security footage was reviewed and the only two community members who showed up were let in and joined in an informal chat with Board of Education members and staff.