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Mixed bag for Utah school budgets

First Published Jun 24 2013 07:46 am • Last Updated Jun 25 2013 10:46 pm

For public school districts along the Wasatch Front, the coming school year will be a mixed financial bag.

Many school boards approved their tentative 2013-14 budgets this week, allowing taxpayers a chance to review them in coming weeks.

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Utah lawmakers increased public education financing by roughly $300 million, the most since the economy tanked in 2007. But the budget increase, however, affected districts large and small, urban and rural, in a host of different ways.

This coming school year, districts received $2,899 per student from the state, a 2 percent increase over last year. But how that money filtered down to districts depended on many factors including insurance costs, location and, most importantly, the demographics of teachers and students.

For example, a district with a younger workforce will have lower retirement costs; a rural district could have higher transportation costs; and a district with new students will have more financial options.

"It depends a lot on what districts have tried to do over the course of several budget cycles," said Jay Blain, Utah Education Association director of policy and research. "There’s so many factors that can go into [budgets], you can’t just say this district is doing a good job and this one isn’t."

Here is a snapshot of some district budgets, which can be viewed on their websites.

Alpine School District » Of the district’s tentative $589 million 2013-14 budget, teacher salary schedule will be funded, along with a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment, and a one-time 1 percent payment for eligible employees. District spokesman John Patten said for educators who participated in training and other development, the raise could equal 5.2 percent.

The state’s largest district, with 71,000 students, paid for increased costs for retirement and health insurance. Two additional paid training days were added for teachers, and 10 teaching positions were approved for class-size reduction. The board approved increasing taxes, but since the tax rate will be less than the current rate, many property owners will see a decrease in property taxes. The change in tax rate was made in order to accelerate debt reduction, fund pay-as-you-go projects and recover charter school local replacement funds.

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Canyons School District » The teacher and administrative salary schedule was funded along with a 0.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment. Educators also will see a decrease in insurance premiums.

The $223.3 million general budget includes a 9 percent Utah Retirement Systems contribution increase; $1.3 million for bus routes that are closer than 1.5 miles to the school, which the state will not pay for; two new teaching aides; and the expansion of the pre-engineering program at Mount Jordan Middle School.

Davis School District » Officials said one of the most challenging aspects was the expectation that the state’s 2 percent increase in per-pupil spending — about $4.9 million — would equal pay increases for employees. However, cost increases of $1.1 million and retirement increases of $3.8 million used up the added revenue. 

Still, the teacher salary schedule was funded, which on average would amount to a 1.6 percent increase. There was a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for classified employees, such as bus drivers and teacher aides. Administrative personnel will receive a 1.5 percent increase.

To reach those increases, part-time employees are taking a furlough day, though that won’t impact how many day students are being educated.

Granite School District » In order to balance the budget, six or seven "middle manager" positions will be cut, but most of those will be eliminated at the end of the current school year through attrition or retirement. The 67,000-student district has negotiated with the unions for teachers and classified employees, who will receive a .33 percent cost-of-living increase. The $500,000 shortfall is a relatively small amount compared with the district’s overall operating budget this school year of $448 million.

Ogden School District » The board cut $3 million from the tentative $135 million 2013-2014 budget, which calls for no tax increase. As part of the cuts, it will completely redesign its librarian structure. It includes funding the teacher salary schedule. The current budget does not include a cost-of-living adjustment for employees, but the board has committed to changing it to include a 1 percent increase, said Ogden School District Business Administrator Eugene Hart.

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