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Utah school budgets cut class sizes, popular outdoor center
Education » Several districts to give raises to teachers, cut programs.
First Published Jun 14 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jun 17 2014 02:44 pm

What a difference a few years make.

During the depths of the economic downturn, schools in Utah and across the country slashed budgets. Teacher salaries stagnated, class sizes swelled and programs were pared in a number of school districts.

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Now, as Utah districts prepare their budgets for the next school year, the outlook is significantly better.

Some, such as Granite, still face tight budgets. As a result, Granite hopes to raise taxes slightly and shutter its popular Mill Hollow Outdoors Education Center program.

Others, however, such as Salt Lake City, are seeing budget savings, allowing them to achieve long-time goals such as lowering class size.

The Utah Legislature’s increases in the state’s base per pupil spending, known as the weighted pupil unit, have helped districts, said Bruce Williams, state associate superintendent. The budgets for many across the state are likely stabilizing, he said.

Below are the highlights — and in some cases, the low spots — of budgets for larger area school districts.

Salt Lake City » Leaders of the 24,000-student district expect to have an additional $6.8 million as a result of reduced debt service payments.

They could have lowered taxes by about $31 a year per $100,000 of a home’s value. Instead, the district’s board decided to fund items high on district leaders’ and parents’ wish lists, including lowering class sizes.

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The board decided at its June meeting to decrease class sizes, give the most experienced employees a 1 percent raise and pay teachers for training days.

They want to reduce class sizes to 25 students in grades K-3 (down from a current goal of 25.65 in grades 1-3). And they want to reduce class sizes in grades 4-12 to a goal of 28 kids per class. That would be down more than half a student in grades 7-12 and down more than two students in grades 4-6.

The board will hold a truth-in-taxation hearing in August to finalize the budget because the district decided not to use the extra $6.8 million to lower taxes.

The board also decided, in May, to roll nearly $20,000 that used to be paid to Superintendent McKell Withers in the form of an annuity and bonuses into his base salary instead.

Granite District » Increases in state funding weren’t enough to cover all of the 68,100-student district’s costs for next school year. That means, among other things, it’s looking to cut at least one program and raise taxes.

The district is proposing a 2.7 percent property tax increase — a jump that would mean about an additional $25 a year on a home valued at $250,000.

The district also plans to cut its Mill Hollow Outdoor Education Center program. For decades, students have visited Mill Hollow in the Uinta Mountains to learn more about nature and the outdoors. Lawmakers, however, decided in recent years to no longer allow school districts to impose property tax levies for recreation, and funding for the center has been drying up since then, said Ben Horsley, district spokesman.

Closing it should save the district about $350,000 a year, Horsley said, though it will still pay about $150,000 a year to maintain the facilities, under its agreement with the U.S. Forest Service.

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