Teachers support a tax hike | ParkRecord.com

Teachers support a tax hike

Patrick Parkinson, OF the Record staff

Slashing in half the time teachers have to prepare lesson plans would hurt their ability to educate kids, a veteran science instructor at Park City High School said.

"This would mark the end of my career as a teacher," Charlie Matthews added at a town hall-style meeting about 60 people attended at the high school Wednesday.

Still, instead of daily prep time, scheduling preparation periods every other day could save the Park City School District about $795,000 as officials look to trim $2.4 million from next year’s budget.

Declining revenue from taxes and other sources combined with increasing costs could force the district to cut spending by about $4.8 million in the next two years.

But an audience with many Park City teachers suggested that officials increase taxes before their benefits packages get reduced. Increasing property taxes on a primary residence worth about $500,000 could raise $1 million for the school district each year.

Asked if taxes should increase $25, $50 or $75, about 20 people supported the $50 hike. By a show of hands, however, about 10 people suggested raising taxes even higher than $75.

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"Is there a reason why we wouldn’t want to do this?" asked Gaylynn Mooney, a science teacher and parent in the district. "Would it put up a red flag that we have a ton of money?"

State lawmakers have targeted local tax coffers with so-called equalization legislation, which has aimed to redistribute money earmarked for the Park City area throughout the rest of Utah.

"We are concerned about it raising a huge red flag," said Kim Carson, a member of the Park City Board of Education.

An equalization bill could surface next year and Carson said she is concerned a tax increase might provide more money for the Legislature to take and spend elsewhere.

"We do have people who are struggling in the community and we have people on fixed income," Carson said.

Meanwhile, paying all health, vision and dental premiums for its employees costs the district about $4 million.

"Park City is atypical in paying the amount that it does pay," Park City School District Information and Finance Specialist Patrick Ogden said.

But the audience mostly opposed making employees contribute to the costs for their insurance premiums. They used digital clickers to instantly submit their feedback for fixing the budget woes.

Other cost-saving measures the district is considering include increasing class sizes and reducing the number of school days next year.

Ogden said he estimates the district could save $640,000 by making the average class more than 23 students.

The district would save about $150,000 for each extra day the schools are closed, he said.

"That means students don’t come and employees don’t get paid," Ogden said.

Most of the audience said no days should be taken from the calendar to fill budget gaps.

Instead, educators should clean out supply closets and stop wasteful purchasing practices, parent Jill Seifert said.

Supplies like books, pencils, paper and cleaning supplies cost the district about $1.7 million per year, Ogden said.

And providing four days each year for teachers to work as students take the day off costs the district about $420,000. Much of the audience suggested only two teacher work days are needed.

But the group voted against eliminating the $1,200 yearly stipend some district employees receive to defer housing and transportation costs. Ending the newer program could annually save $790,000.

Officials say about $50,000 per year could be saved by eliminating meals and snacks at meetings.

The budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins in July, must be approved June 16, Timothy said, adding that he will make spending recommendations to board members June 2.