Guest editorial: Parkites should put schools first when they head to the polls | ParkRecord.com

Guest editorial: Parkites should put schools first when they head to the polls

Alane Gaspari and Benjamin Kahn
Park City Education Association co-presidents

As November approaches, voters are sifting through a lot of information to prepare for their trip to the polls. Not only will we be electing our officials, we will also consider ballot proposals and an open space bond. This year, the Park City Education Association (PCEA) would like you to put education first by voting yes on Ballot Question 1.

For years, lawmakers have been "borrowing" money from Utah's general fund to support road maintenance, construction, and other transportation-related costs. As a result, we have great roads, but there has been less and less money available for education. In fact, Utah currently ranks dead last in the nation for per-pupil spending. We have the second largest class sizes in the nation, and we rank 35th in the nation for teacher pay. Simply put, we have a funding crisis on our hands when it comes to education.

Ballot Question 1 is a compromise reached by the organizers of the much-publicized Our Schools Now petition, the Utah Education Association, and Utah lawmakers. It proposes a 10-cent increase to the gas tax. This would cost the average Utahn $4 per month, and provide $180 million per year in revenue. $125 million of that revenue would be earmarked for education and controlled by local school districts (parents, principals, teachers and other school stakeholders). Funding cannot be used to build schools, increase district administration or support athletics, but it can be invested in hiring additional teachers and support staff, increasing teacher salaries, reducing class sizes, and providing professional development.

As we enter the next round of master planning, one of our major concerns is how to attract and retain the most talented teachers from around the country. This is an enormous challenge given the teacher shortage and the current housing costs here in Summit County.

We are concerned that new teachers can't afford to live here. We are concerned about the distances teacher have to travel to teach in our district. We are concerned about losing teachers in our community. Question 1 will make it easier for the School Board to offer our teachers wages that may make the difference between living in or near Park City and commuting from Orem.

Moving forward, we must also consider unique approaches to attract and retain highly qualified teachers that go beyond the salary schedule. Options may include college loan forgiveness, affordable teacher housing, and health insurance bridges to retirement.

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We know that there are a lot of competing interests for your vote, and for your tax dollars. Please remember to put our schools first when you go to the polls this November.