Our Schools Now gains traction in Park City
Since Utah ranks last in the nation for per student spending year after year, community members around the state are taking matters into their own hands.
Petition packets are being passed around to schools statewide, including schools in Summit County, seeking support for the Our Schools Now initiative. Christie Worthington, president of the Park City School District Parent Teacher Organization Council, said efforts to sign the petition kicked into gear in Park City in September, but the initiative has been brewing amongst organizers for the last year. Now she, as well as other parents and community members, are tasked with filling the packets with names.
Our Schools Now is an initiative to increase funding in public and charter schools in the state. Those leading the movement are hoping to get enough signatures to include the initiative on the Election Day ballot in 2018.
Our Schools Now was first proposed by local businesses Zions Bank, Questar and Larry H. Miller Group of Companies and is supported by several other organizations, including the Utah Education Association. Heidi Matthews, a former librarian at Treasure Mountain Junior High School, is president of the association.
She said that the reason she is so supportive of the initiative is that an equal amount of money would go to each student, no matter the county or the size of the school. The amount that would be given to each school per student is approximately $1,000. The total amount generated would be about $715 million – 85 percent directed toward K-12 schools and 15 percent to public universities and technical colleges.
Funds would be used to lower class sizes, increase teacher compensation and hire additional aides, counselors and specialists, according to a fact sheet about Our Schools Now. Funds would come from increasing the state income tax rate from 5 to 5.45 percent and raising the state sales tax to 5.15 percent from 4.7 percent.
While Matthews said that some individuals are upset that those who are putting more money into the pool won’t see larger benefits, she said it is good for Utah as a whole.
“Our investment in the education system is for the common good of the state,” she said.
Organizers have to get 113,143 signatures and a certain percentage from each senate district in order for the initiative to be placed on the ballot. Senate district 26 includes Dagget, Duchesne, Summit, Uintah and Wasatch counties.
Worthington, who has been heading the signature-gathering effort in the Park City School District, said that she has gathered about 300. The signatures are due to the county clerk on April 15, but Austin Cox, campaign manager of the initiative, said he is hopeful that the districts can turn them in sooner.
Each Park City school has about one or two parents assigned to carry the packets and collect signatures. Worthington, who has had children in the district for 11 years, said that one of the main reasons that she is behind the effort is because she sees how much teachers spend for equipment in the classroom. If the initiative were to get on the ballot and be voted in, she said there would be “not enough words” to convey her joy.
“I’ve been in the classroom for years and I’ve seen what teachers do out of their pocket, and that’s just not OK with me,” she said. “I’m hopeful for Utah. I want them to produce quality, educated kids to get the best jobs out there, and that’s going to be with more money.”
Since the money from Our Schools Now would not able to be used for school construction or district overhead, Matthews said that a good chunk of the money (up to 25 percent) will be used to pay educator salary/benefits. That, she believes, will have ripple effects.
“Not only is this going to help with the programs and resources in our buildings, it will begin to address the teacher shortage,” she said.
But, Matthews said that not everyone who puts their names on the petition is signing because they agree 100 percent with the measure. They are signing to have the possibility of seeing it on the ballot.
“Don’t you at least want to have a conversation?” she said. “Don’t you want to have a choice instead of just accepting what the legislature has done and the funding levels we’ve had?”
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Compensation is the largest issue left on the table after a contract governing most every other aspect of teachers’ employment was negotiated earlier in June.