School bond may be in jeopardy due to lack of transparency
October 2, 2015
Call it a threat, or just a poorly rolled out Plan B, but many Park City School District voters were taken aback by a recent announcement that the school board may move forward with its ambitious $66 million master plan whether voters approve the upcoming bond or not.
According to board members, their ace in the hole is a capital levy tax which, in lieu of a voter -approved bond, could be hiked to bring in funding.
In hindsight (and school board members would likely agree), the capital levy tax should have been part of the discussion from the outset. Instead, it appears the school board kept that alternative on the down low, preferring to ask voters permission for a voluntary tax increase rather than forgiveness for a mandatory one.
Given Parkites’ long-standing support for education, the board likely believed the bond would be a slam dunk, so there was no need to bring up the fact that they could — and would — do what they felt was best for students, regardless.
Unfortunately, at this point, the belated introduction of a nuclear alternative may have already dampened voters’ enthusiasm for the bond. According to figures from the school district, in order to raise the same amount of money through a capital levy, taxes would go up substantially more than if a long-term bond were approved. For example: If the current bond gets the nod, the owners of an average $636,000 primary home would pay $123 a year for the next 20 years. If the bond fails and the district still decides to proceed on some or all of the projects it has proposed, the same homeowners would pay $360 to $600 a year for the next 3-5 years.
If the school district had disclosed that fact when the bond was first proposed it might have worked in the bond’s favor. Given board members’ contention that the expansion plans are essential due to anticipated enrollment growth, voters might have seen the bond for what it is — a proactive financial move that would distribute the burden of paying for new facilities among both current residents and those who will be using them in the future, instead of a reactive capital levy when faced with inevitable overcrowding.
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The board has only a few short weeks to make amends. Members must make the case for each of the proposed projects expansion of the high school, a new middle school, improvements at McPolin Elementary, demolition of Treasure Mountain Junior High and the controversial rebuilding of the Dozier athletic field.
And they must really listen, with open minds, to their constituents’ criticisms. Thanks to the board’s abrupt dismissal of the master plan committee’s proposal to keep Dozier Field at its current location, and subsequent statements that the board plans to stick to its original plan regardless of public input, citizens are beginning to dig in their heels.
The bond no longer looks like a slam dunk and early voting begins in 17 days. If it fails, it will be a missed opportunity to improve one of Park City’s most valuable assets its school system. And a large part of the blame will be laid at the feet of a board that turned a deaf ear to the public.
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