Park City School District calls on taxpayers as needs grow
While Park City provides a top-notch education, doing so isn’t free
Park City’s schools are known for their committed teachers, trained staff and motivated students. But excellence comes at a cost and students, teachers, principals, superintendents and parents are all trying to figure out how to pay for it. After the failure of a $56 million bond for capital improvements in 2015 (with nearly 60 percent casting a no vote), the Park City School Board approved a 16.8 percent tax increase in August.
This increase will generate $5.6 million per year primarily to cover teacher raises, student fees, and administration. This will cost the average primary home owner (with a nearly $900,000 home) about $188 more per year in property taxes and $343 more for a vacation home. The Board will likely increase taxes again next year, though business administrator Todd Hauber says the size of the hike will depend on a number of factors.
Park City School Board member Andrew Caplan has accepted the challenge to fund the schools. “We’re making progress as a district,” he says.
Having worked in finance in London and Hong Kong, he does admit, “It’s certainly different than the private sector.”
And while student numbers have not increased significantly, he’s concerned about the teacher shortage and lack of housing for educators, hence the nearly $7,000 bump in salaries and benefits. “Only 50 percent of teachers live in district. It’s just impossible to live here.”
The Board has also hired a new superintendent, to replace the departing Ember Conley. “We wanted an experienced leader,” says Caplan. The School Board hired Jill Gildea for a higher salary than Conley’s, at $235,000 per year, and also purchased a district-owned house for her to live in.
But there has been significant pushback from some members of the community. Former Board member Julie Eihausen says, “Our student count is around 4,700. It hasn’t changed in many years.” The tax increase included funding for additional school administrators and staff. “I understand we have some incredibly wealthy people here, but long-term residents are going to be taxed out, because we have a top-heavy administration,” she adds.
And these tax increases don’t even address the school buildings themselves. “Looking forward we still have to do some capital projects,” says former Board member Moe Hickey. “We’re still going to do a bond after two tax increases totaling $11 million.”
Former teacher and longtime Parkite Jim Tedford has been following the process too. He’s not only concerned with the increase in the superintendent’s salary (putting it in the top three in the state) but the increase in support staff when enrollment is stable. In a letter to the Board, he wrote, “Don’t jeopardize future community support by not being fiscally responsible with your current operating budget.”
But the Board is intent, according to Caplan, on streamlining the budgeting process. And Caplan agrees that officials will be looking to bond, perhaps in the fall of 2019. That could pay for a whole lot of books.