Seeking sustainability, Park City School District passes budget |

Seeking sustainability, Park City School District passes budget

The Park City Board of Education last week voted unanimously to adopt the preliminary budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

New expenditures in the budget include money for roughly eight additional full-time teachers to keep up with rising enrollment and nearly $1.6 million in increased pay for the district’s staff as a result of salary negotiations.

Much of the cost will be offset by an increase in property tax revenues due to growth in the area and the Utah Legislature increasing the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) used to fund public education. However, the costs will put the district in a deficit of just more than $1 million, according to the documents released in public meetings. The deficit will be covered with the district’s excess rainy day funds, which Todd Hauber, the district’s business administrator, has stated in several public meetings is an intentional move to draw down those funds and is not a long-term hazard to the district.

Julie Eihausen, a member of the Board of Education who emphasized fiscal responsibility last year during her campaign for her seat, said the district is on the path to sustainability and is doing a good job using existing money to revamp programs rather than spend new money.

"If I remember right, at one point we were going to be in the negative by $4 million to $5 million projecting out in five years," Eihausen said. "That was not sustainable. So we’re getting to where we need to go."

Nancy Garrison, who also serves on the Board of Education, agreed.

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"The health of the budget is very encouraging," she said. "That’s due to very close attention from the superintendent (Ember Conley) and the business administrator (Hauber). We were very close to a balanced budget."

However, Garrison added, there is still work to be done to ensure sustainability into the future.

"We can see that there will come a time where we’ll have to make some tough decisions, either on cutting way back on programming or see if our community has an appetite for continued investment in our kids’ education," she said. "That’s where we’ll be, depending on what numbers you plug in, in just a few short years."

The budget also includes roughly $4 million that will leave the district to be equalized among poorer districts in the state as a result of legislation passed this year. The legislation roughly cancels out a slight drop in property taxes the district imposes.

Eihausen said it was frustrating the district is working hard to use money in a responsible way, yet the state is adding a burden to taxpayers that will not benefit Park City students.

"I believe that is unfair," she said. "You have other districts whose voters refuse to pass a bond, so they have to figure out how to get the money somewhere else. Unfortunately, that’s going to come from us."

The Legislature also passed a bill forcing the district to send roughly $500,000 to the state’s charter school fund.

Garrison said it’s difficult to walk the line between being fiscally responsible and ensuring students receive a top-flight education, especially when the state is taking money from Park City. Currently, she said, the state gives the district about $3,000 per student each year, while the district spends nearly $10,000 in additional money per student.

"That’s a huge (gap)," she said. "If the community wants its kids to be educated this way, we’re going to have to figure that out."