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School district faces deep budget cuts

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

With state lawmakers facing a possible $850 million budget shortfall schools in Park City are bracing to lose nearly $5 million in funding from the Legislature in the next two years.

This year’s legislative session begins Jan. 25 and Michael Boyle was one of several members of the Park City Board of Education who met Thursday evening at Park City High School to discuss the budget crisis with residents.

"Jan. 25 we have a reason to be nervous," Boyle told the audience.

Back this year is legislation sponsored by Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, which would equalize school funding around the state by redistributing some property tax revenue.

"That is a bill that can have a real significant impact on our district," said Ray Timothy, superintendent of the Park City School District.

If approved the legislation could cost the Park City School about $960,000 the first year.

The legislation would take about $3 million from 21 Utah school districts and redistribute it among 20 other districts and all charter schools in the state, said Patrick Ogden, finance and information specialist for the Park City School District.

"When this funding change takes place there are going to be winners and losers," Ogden said.

But the biggest loser would be Park City, he explained.

The legislation would consolidate seven local tax levies into one, Ogden said.

"There is a belief that there is a funding inequity in the state of Utah," Ogden said. "I’m not sure how anybody can look at any school district in the state of Utah and say, that district is over-funded."

Still, by decreasing funding from local levies and increasing the state-mandated basic tax rate Newbold hopes to direct more money toward districts that are struggling financially.

About half of the school districts in the state would receive more funding from the basic rate than they would lose from the drop in local levies, Ogden said.

However, the three school districts in Summit County would be forced to cut their budgets or raise taxes if money from the local levies is reduced.

"This is the day-to-day operations funding for public education," Ogden said.

Residents in Summit County already pay more in property taxes to Utah schools per capita than taxpayers in any other county in the state, according to Ogden.

Property owners in the Park City School District also pay enough in federal income tax to cover more than half of the federal funding public schools receive statewide.

Meanwhile, state income tax generated in Summit County helps fund 18 other school districts throughout Utah.

"We pay into the state a lot more money for schools than we get," said Park City resident Paul Zane Pilzer, who attended Thursday’s town hall discussion. "We have elected to tax ourselves at a higher level in order to provide a higher level of education for our children."

Pilzer said school equalization programs that have redistributed local property taxes in other states have "destroyed very good school districts."

"What I heard last night were very legitimate concerns," Pilzer said in a telephone interview Friday. "These are called Robin Hood bills and the outcome is always the same. It starts out to help kids in poorer districts get money from rich districts. What it leads to is a decline in all districts."


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