Legislature decides not to decrease overall school funding after Park City Board of Education slashes $3m based on anticipated cuts

Park City School District

The state Legislature on Thursday, two days after a sometimes contentious Park City Board of Education meeting at which the board slashed more than $3 million from next year’s budget, backed down from a potential 10% cut in state aid due to the coronavirus pandemic and instead increased funding for the state’s school districts.

Todd Hauber, Park City School District’s business administrator, said it appears the state portion of the district’s budget will stay roughly the same as in the 2019-20 fiscal year, and because of growth in property tax revenues, the district will actually have about $1.3 million more in revenue to spend.

The Board of Education meeting Tuesday occurred after the elected officials in a recent letter froze salaries next school year due to expected state funding cuts and stopped contract negotiations with the Park City Education Association, the union representing teachers, to replace the current one expiring at the end of the month. District employees can, and have at times, worked without a contract in place, and would continue to get paid, but many questions remain about how that would work.

The meeting remained cordial, but both the union and board expressed their views with conviction. It took place before the Legislature convened its special session Thursday morning, but after the session had been called.

Board President Andrew Caplan said at the meeting that cuts to the district’s funding were a near certainty and has said that the board halted the negotiations because it would be unable to give teachers a raise.

“Asking or demanding a raise right now is just not appropriate,” Caplan said at the meeting. “… We need to be all on the same page, and it’s not helpful to try to create this divisive narrative because there are no two sides, there’s one side — it’s for education. As soon as we can pay more, we will. It’s not that we’re tax hawks and we don’t want to pay. … This is not a school board decision, this is the result of state action.”

Park City Education Association leaders have expressed frustration with the board’s actions and offered two main complaints at the meeting. They said the lack of a raise amounts to a pay cut because of previous promises and increases in the cost of living, and that the contract negotiations had been unilaterally suspended in defiance of the current collectively bargained agreement.

Before the meeting, representatives from the teacher’s union asked the board to wait to approve the budget until guidance from the Legislature about state funding was clear.

Julie Hooker, co-president of the Park City Education Association, said her group wanted a seat at the table after the special session.

“There were some real hurt feelings,” Hooker said at the meeting of the negotiations being suspended. “… We just want to be part of the solution.”

Jen Bramson, another union representative, said there were many questions about how to operate without a contract in place. She said the current contract included multiple pay raises and wondered whether those would be carried over to the next school year.

She also pushed back against the board’s suspension of contract negotiations. In a letter to the board, union representatives requested the resumption of talks after the state concluded its special session.

Caplan said at the meeting he was open to that idea. In an email to The Park Record, he indicated that, depending on what the Legislature passed, the board would look to continue negotiations.

On Tuesday, the board passed a preliminary budget that included the worst-case scenario, 10% cuts from the state, totaling about $3.1 million. That budget now will likely be revisited in light of lawmakers’ funding decisions, but the board isn’t scheduled to meet until mid-August, after its summer break.

Hauber said it would be helpful to have an amended budget in place before the school year starts to allow the district to re-implement programs that were cut or reduced in the budget adopted Tuesday and allow the district to hire staff if necessary.

Part of the cost-cutting measures included not hiring positions that come open naturally, like if a staff member retires.

New growth in the area has netted the school district about $1.3 million more in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year compared to last year.

That money was initially earmarked for a raise for the district’s employees, but that plan was nixed after state leaders told school districts to prepare for cuts in state aid of 2%, 5% or up to 10% — cuts that ultimately did not materialize.

In March, the Legislature approved a 6% increase in per-pupil aid to school districts. The bill passed Thursday includes instead a 1.8% increase.

Before the special session, Hauber said there would be room to have negotiations about how to spend the increased tax revenue if state funding was not cut.

“If the Legislature did nothing — didn’t give us 6%, didn’t cut — we’d have money to have a compensation conversation, which is where we were up until last week,” Hauber said.

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