The Park Record Editorial, May 15, 2010 |

The Park Record Editorial, May 15, 2010

School budget crisis: plenty of blame to go around

Now that state and local budget cuts are being translated into actual job and service losses, citizens will finally get a taste of what their nonnegotiable demand to hold the line on taxes really means.

Utah voters have always taken a particularly hard stand against increasing taxes and while the economy was growing, that static tax rate still brought in enough money to expand services and keep up with cost of living increases. But now that new growth has come to a halt and existing property values are slipping, yesterday’s tax rate equates to a decline in revenues.

In Summit County that means any agency that depends on property taxes from city and county road crews, police and trash collectors must cut their budgets without reducing service levels. Among the hardest hit are our schools and this year they are saying there is no more discretionary funding left to cut. The school boards in Park City, Kamas and Coalville are now facing critical decisions about cutting staff, reducing benefits and eliminating programs to make ends meet.

Sadly, the ones who will suffer are our children.

In South Summit some of the districts most talented teachers have accepted retirement buyouts. The buyouts will save taxpayer dollars, but they will definitely shortchange many students who won’t have the benefit of these veteran teachers’ skills. In North Summit teachers may see across-the-board pay cuts or furloughs, which means students will have fewer days and/or less qualified teachers to prepare them for their futures.

Next year, when parents see the tangible effects of the budget cuts that have been debated in lengthy meetings throughout the year, they will likely blame their local elected officials or the state legislature for the declining quality of their schools. But, in fact, those politicians have been doing exactly what voters have told them to do.

Candidates always promise to support education but they know better than to even remotely suggest raising taxes to make that happen. These days the anti-tax lobby is stronger than ever and any politician who has ever voted ‘aye’ on a tax increase can count on being trounced in the next election.

It is time for citizens to take a close look at what ‘no tax increase’ does to their public safety departments, their transportation systems and their schools. It is also time to stop blaming legislators and to take some responsibility for the future.

In Utah primary-home owners pay taxes on half the assessed valuation of their homes while second-home owners pay on the full value. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate that formula so that full-time residents kick in a little more to support the services they use year round. Or maybe voters should press the legislature to allow individual school districts to increase their local option tax rate ceilings. That way citizens can decide what is best for their own neighborhoods.

What is not working is watching our schools starve while voters boot any politician brave enough to point out that hard times require greater sacrifices especially when it comes to funding our children’s education.

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