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Utah lawmaker wants to equalize school funding

Published July 18, 2012 9:08 pm

Education • Senator's bill focuses on commercial property tax.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

South Jordan • Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, unveiled details of his new property tax equalization bill Tuesday night to his hometown city council, acknowledging that any legislation to redistribute funds more equitably among the state's school districts faces a fight.

"When dealing with complex and difficult and somewhat divisive issues it's better to communicate early," Osmond said, adding that he plans to include all stakeholders in discussions on the historically divisive topic.

Osmond's proposal focuses on commercial rather than residential property taxes. His unnumbered bill — still a work in progress — has three major parts:

• All commercial property tax revenues currently levied by the school districts would be sent back to the state for redistribution using a formula. Local districts would continue to levy, administer and manage funds from residential property taxes.

• The formula would have two tiers, with the first being an amount established by the Legislature to address the needs of Utah's rural schools. The remaining funds would be redistributed to school districts based on student numbers.

• Local control would be expanded by allowing school districts to use local residential property tax dollars for whatever they deem necessary, whether it is teachers salaries, retirement benefits or technology upgrades for schools.

"This is a draft proposal that may or may not go forward," Osmond said. "I'm looking for context and perspective from every side."

Osmond's proposal drew a mixed response from South Jordan council members.

"Your proposal is brilliant in its simplicity and stunning in its breadth," said Councilman Chuck Newton, "which is why I'm concerned that it will have a hard time getting through. I think you're going to run into a buzz saw."

In light of the growing financial disparity among the state's school districts, Osmond said even incremental progress would be a good start. "If we don't have the political will to address this problem — it's not just our problem, it's a problem throughout the entire state — then who is going to?"

cmckitrick@sltrib.com