Three years after legislators passed a bill to allow school districts to raise property taxes by two mills to reduce class sizes, Nebo School District officials have finally taken the step.

This week, members of the Nebo School Board passed the leeway tax, which will increase property taxes on a $75,000 home by about $20 or by $27 on a $100,000 home. The action was made on in a split vote, with Board President Bonnie Palmer and board members Collin Allan and Kaye Westwood voting in favor of the increase. Board members LaMar Wilson and Brent Gordon opposed the measure.The board-voted leeway will add $478,000 to the district's coffers from the tax alone and $454,000 in matching funds from the state (because of its relatively low assessed property values) - $932,000 in all to help reduce class sizes in one of the most crowded and poorest districts in one of the most crowded and poorest states, according to Finance Director Errol Smith.

Nebo ranks last in the state for total expenditures per student. The district spent less than $3,000 per student in the 1991-1992 school year, more than $500 less than the state average and nearly half of U.S. averages. Only one other Utah school district has a higher student-to-teacher ratio than Nebo.

District officials originally attempted to pass the leeway in 1990, when they placed the increase on a November ballot, saying they would rather allow residents to make the decision than possibly fighting about it later. During that election, the property tax increase failed in a close vote. Both Gordon and Wilson said they opposed the leeway because of that election.

However, Collin Allan has been in favor of implementing the leeway since 1990 and suggested earlier this year that the board might want to reconsider the two-mill increase.

"With all the growth that's going on in the county, now might be the time to finally pass the leeway," Allan told board members.

Public relations spokesman Jack Leifson said the district made the increase now so Nebo will receive the matching funds for the next school year, rather than waiting another year for those funds.

"It is important to note the state will match our efforts almost dollar for dollar," Leifson said. "If we do not make any local effort, the state support will also be zero."

According to Leifson, with the funding Nebo can reduce its student-to-teacher ratio to 24-1 in grades from kindergarten to 5, and to 27-1 in grades 6 through 12 - or at least three students per classroom.

Also, Leifson said research findings indicate that reducing class sizes can improve student performance, attitudes and discipline, as well as lead to increased parental involvement and more innovative teaching.

"The greatest benefits from reducing class size are realized in the younger grades," Leifson said. "And more individualized attention from a teacher positively impacts a student's academic progress."

By law, the school district can only use the tax moneys for reducing class loads, either through new construction or hiring new teachers.