Cost of learning
"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."
The Red Queen, in Through the Looking Glass
The Salt Lake City School District finds itself in much the same predicament as Alice, who, in the Lewis Carroll classic, runs "very fast for a long time" but remains in the same spot.
The district received a 2 percent funding increase this year from the Legislature, whose members were enthusiastic about what they touted as the largest boost in education funding in many years. But that meager increase does not allow the public schools in the capital city to continue to provide current service to children without a tax increase.
What legislators were so proud to call a funding increase does little in most districts but pay for necessary cost increases in retirement benefits for school employees.
District officials are asking the district school board to consider raising property taxes so they can continue to offer the academic programs that are currently available. The $3.6 million that would be generated from the proposed tax hike would cover $1.9 million to support current academic programs, $1.2 million for state retirement and cost-of-living increases for employees and $450,000 to cover federal budget cutbacks.
The district's proposal, which the board should approve unless somebody can come up with a better way to raise the millions needed, would have homeowners paying $12.65 more annually per $100,000 of home valuation, according to Janet Roberts, district business administrator.
The median price of a single-family home in Salt Lake City ranges from $139,000 to $393,000, depending on location, according to 2013's first quarter figures provided by Urban Utah Homes and Estates, a real estate company. So the tax increase would range from about $18 to $43 or more, depending on the value of a home. That's not insignificant for most homeowners, but maintaining the current level of education is worth it.
Really, the district has little recourse. Utah's predominantly Republican Legislature enjoys pointing to its ideological aversion to tax increases, even though surveys show Utahns are willing to pay more to improve the work being done on a shoestring in their neighborhood schools.
So legislators push responsibility for funding onto districts like Salt Lake's, then change laws to take that money and send it to faster-growing districts elsewhere. Utahns pay higher taxes, but the Legislature's hands are clean.