Top five education stories of 2014 |

Top five education stories of 2014

The past year saw many issues that affected local students and educators, ranging from rising enrollment that put strains on school district budgets to school board elections that brought new voices to the table. Here are five of the biggest education stories we saw in Summit County in 2014.

5. A new place to call home

After nearly two decades as a private school, the Winter Sports School expanded this year into a public charter school. But that wasn’t the only big change for the school, which claims alumni such as Olympic gold medalist skiers Ted Ligety and Joss Christensen. It moved into a new building in July, at 4251 Shadow Mountain Drive, leaving behind its portable buildings at Utah Olympic Park. The new digs accommodated a growth in enrollment from 42 to 112 as a result of the switch to becoming a charter, and the building earned rave reviews from faculty and students, who were excited to finally have simple luxuries such as lockers. More than anything, they were pleased to have a permanent space they could call home. "That was one of the comments I heard most often from students when they first walked into the building," Dave Kaufman, head of school, told The Park Record in September. "It was, ‘Wow, we have a real school now.’ I don’t think anyone who enjoys the new school means to denigrate the school’s history, but there’s a sense of permanence to it now that it didn’t have before at the trailers."

4. Election Day brings change

The hot topics throughout Summit County this fall centered on what would happen on Election Day, and local school districts were no exception. In the Park City School District, Julie Eihausen beat former teacher Doug Payne in District 5, while J.J. Ehlers ran unopposed in District 4. Throughout the campaign, Eihuasen highlighted Payne’s potential conflict of interest due to having a wife currently teaching in the district. She said he would have been unable to participate in board discussions involving issues such as teacher salary negotiations. For his part, Payne maintained there would no conflict and that he would vote for what was best for the district. However, Eihausen thought it was something voters weighed on Election Day, telling The Park Record after the election, "If I was a layperson, someone going in cold and voting, that would have been something I would have looked at." In the South Summit School District, incumbent Steve Camp beat challenger Lisa Kay Farmer in District 4, while Debra Blazzard defeated Stephanie Waters in District 5. Kevin Orgill and Vern Williams ran unopposed in North Summit’s Districts 4 and 5, respectively.

3. Timeline revealed for possible new junior high

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Citing a desire this fall to map out the Park City School District’s long-term future, the district’s master planning committee began evaluating the most critical capital needs. At the school board’s most recent public meeting, on Dec. 9, the committee briefed the board on its findings. The district’s top priority, the committee found, should be tearing down and replacing Treasure Mountain Junior High, which has been plagued by problems since its construction in the 1980s and was discovered to currently have serious lighting, air circulation and plumbing issues. The committee laid out an aggressive timeline for potentially replacing TMJH that would allow the board to choose whether or not to move forward with the plans and issue a public bond to help finance the project. The public would then vote on the bond in November 2015. If the bond were to pass, the goal would be to open the new school in the fall of 2017. Noting that the planning is still in the preliminary stages and nothing has been finalized, committee member Sean Morgan told the board that the timeline is not set in stone, but the sooner a new school can be built, the better, as the district continues to pump money into the current junior high while receiving little value in return.

2. District pumps brakes on PCCAPS building

In the early part of the year, the Park City School District was moving forward with plans to build a new facility to house its Park City Center For Advanced Professional Studies program (PCCAPS), whose lease at its current location, 1850 Sidewinder Drive, is set to expire in 2016. Though the proposed $5.7 million facility was to serve other purposes, as well, such as the expansions of current district medical and engineering classes, it was controversial because of the relatively low number of students who participate in PCCAPS each semester. Acknowledging those concerns, as well as the strain rising enrollment is putting on the district’s current facilities, the school board in October voted to delay progress on the proposed building until the master planning committee could evaluate the district’s most urgent capital needs, which resulted in the plans to replace Treasure Mountain Junior High. Board member Tania Knauer told The Park Record, "I believe that we really need to have a master plan that evaluates all of the capital requirements in the district, and then fairly prioritizes them based on need. It was in line with what my beliefs have been on the CAPS building all along." Despite recommending the board wait on the PCCAPS building, superintendent Ember Conley reiterated her support for the long-term survival of the program, emphasizing that since its inception it has been extremely successful.

1. Property tax increase in Park City

Battling a tight budget due to increased enrollment and rising costs of teacher pay, the Park City School Board turned to the public for help. In September, it passed a property tax increase that amounted to $106.48 on a $550,000 primary home (decreases in other board-controlled levies meant the actual increase was $42.35 compared to the previous year) to generate roughly $3 million dollars in new revenue for the district. The increase came sooner than expected, just two years after the board’s previous property tax hike, and many residents expressed concern over the sustainability of the district’s budget model. Members of the school board in public meetings echoed those worries, promising to examine ways to balance the budget. Board president Moe Hickey told The Park Record at the time, "If we continue down the same path on all the spending, and increase this and increase that, then therefore we’re going to run into another problem. That should be something we look at and say, ‘OK, we have a choice. How do we manage that?"