State legislative session could affect Park City education
As leaders around the state turn their eyes and ears toward the Utah state legislative session, education officials anticipate another year of changes.
Todd Hauber, business administrator for the Park City School District, said that one of the biggest changes is a rewrite of the public education code, aimed at updating the language as well as the layout of the code. The equalization of school funds and teacher licensure are also sure to be hot topics during the session, which started Monday and is set to end on March 8.
Providing more equal funding to schools around the state is a conversation that has been humming at the Capitol Building for the last few years, Hauber said. Park City school officials have long been concerned about equalization efforts because they would take more of local residents’ property taxes and distribute the money to other districts.
This year, three different bills so far are on the table that would affect how much property tax revenue the Park City School District receives. One, by Sen. Howard Stephenson (R-Draper), is a proposed tax reform bill that addresses a variety of taxes, from corporate franchise to property. The bill suggests fixing the rate of the basic levy, which is the main property tax that funds public education. Currently, the tax rate fluctuates based off the value of one’s property, or assessed valuation, Hauber said.
Two lawmakers are choosing to tackle how to allocate funds from the basic levy more equally across Utah schools. Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (R-South Jordan) wants to distribute more money to schools with high tax rates and low assessed valuation.
“These are school districts that, even if they needed to raise additional revenue for public education in their communities, couldn’t do it because they are either at their caps for taxes or they tax their people so much that they are not going to be able to tax them anymore,” Hauber said.
In that model, Park City’s extra revenue would go to the state to help other districts, Hauber said.
The other equalization model, written by Rep. Bradley Last (R-Hurricane), offers a different plan.
“It has some of the same elements as Sen. Fillmore’s, but he’s added onto that an extra piece of money that will flow to students who are at academic risk,” he said.
Money in Last’s bill would be allocated for specific students who are under-performing in school.
Neither of the bills have been given a number yet.
Hauber predicts that Fillmore and Last’s bills will merge or be compromised into one single equalization bill.
“We’ve talked about it a fair amount the last three sessions,” he said. “This one is looking like it has enough interest that it will happen this year.”
There tends to be concerns about tax dollars generated in the local community leaving the local community, Hauber said. But although it is uncomfortable, some members of the district and the community are also aware that funding schools across the state is important.
“There is an appropriate level of equalization,” he said. “Being a contributor district, though it is not our favorite situation, as long as it is governed properly and it is going to those districts that truly have a need, it makes sense.”
Hauber said that teacher licensure is also sure to be a theme this year, since there have been small bills in the past that have dealt with the issue of retired teachers being able to come out of retirement to continue teaching while receiving some retirement benefits.
Since Utah is still struggling from a teacher shortage, the state — and Park City — could benefit from a bill that “opens the door a little bit,” Hauber said.
“We are interested in those because that is a ready pool of experienced employees and teachers that we’d like to bring back in as we watch that pool of teaching shrink on us,” he said.
But before any of those bills are passed, Hauber said that there are four that must be addressed first (H.B. 10, H.B. 11, S. B. 11, S. B. 12).
The bills deal with rewriting the public education code, the state law that governs the minimum level of education schools can provide. It will receive a new title and sections will be moved around, but Hauber said that members of the Legislature assured district leaders that it will remain similar.
Hauber said that the bills will likely move quickly through the House and Senate since the new code will be used to write new bills during this legislative session.
“We’re expecting that to get through the session early, and then we’ll watch the new pieces of legislation be written around that new numbering scheme,” he said.
The four bills are intended to pass together and are not able to pass individually, according to the Utah State Legislature’s website.
To follow the progression of bills through Utah’s legislative session, visit this website.
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The Park City School District offices were inadvertently locked, but security footage was reviewed and the only two community members who showed up were let in and joined in an informal chat with Board of Education members and staff.