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School districts respond to rising costs, funding challenges

SALT LAKE CITY — Most of the state's school boards have now approved budgets for the 2013-14 school year.

Tax increases have largely been avoided, but a combination of rising employee costs and decreases in federal funding have caused several districts to enact cuts by eliminating staff positions, imposing furloughs or reducing services.

The Utah Legislature funded a 2 percent increase in per-pupil funding during the most recent legislative session, but in most districts those additional state dollars were absorbed by the rising cost of retirement obligations for employees.

Here's a look at most of the districts along the Wasatch Front:

Alpine School District

The school board voted 5-2 to approve a $589 million budget that includes funding for regularly scheduled salary increases, commonly known as steps and lanes, a 1 percent cost of living increase and a one-time 1 percent payment for eligible employees, Alpine School District spokesman John Patten said.

The budget adds two additional days of professional development and 10 full-time teaching positions to reduce class sizes in the district.

A truth-in-taxation hearing will be held for the approved budget, but Patten said because the approved tax rate is lower than the current rate, many property owners will see a decrease in property taxes charged by the district.

Canyons School District

The school board on Tuesday approved a budget that funds steps and lanes, as well as a 0.5 percent cost of living adjustment for certified and administrative employees.

The budget does not include any significant departmental cuts.

"We had the federal sequestration, same as everyone else," district spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook said. "But we're filling in the holes as best as we can."

Davis School District

District spokesman Chris Williams said the tentative 2013-14 budget approved by the school board does not call for a tax increase. The budget funds steps and lanes for teachers as well as a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for classified employees and a 1.5 percent salary increase for administrative personnel.

While the budget does not impose departmental cuts, all district employees are required to take a one-day furlough during the academic year.

"We don't want to impact kids necessarily, so it's not a classroom day, it's a professional day," Williams said.

Williams also said there is potential that full-time positions vacated by employees who retire or leave for other reasons could be transitioned into part-time positions as a cost-saving measure.

Granite School District

The tentative budget approved by the Granite School Board does not call for a tax increase and includes a 0.33 percent cost of living adjustment for employees in addition to funding steps and lanes, according to district spokesman Ben Horsley.

Horsley said the board was facing a $500,000 deficit, which is recouped in the budget through the elimination of several district-level positions.

"That was done through retirement and attrition so nobody was laid off," he said. "The emphasis and the intent of the board was to hold the classroom harmless, and this budget does that."

Jordan School District

Jordan School District is also not seeking a tax increase in the budget approved this week by members of the school board. According to information on the district's website, the approved budget maintains current student-to-teacher ratios but does not include funding for steps and lanes or cost of living increases.

"We didn't increase class size and we didn't cut any days," district accountant Heather Ellingson said. "It's really a pretty status quo year for the budget."

Murray School District

District spokeswoman D. Wright said the tentative budget approved by the board funds steps and lanes for teachers as well as a 1.33 percent cost of living adjustment for both classified and support staff.

The district has made some staff cuts in the form of administrative realignment and the limiting of part-time employees to 20 hours as a result of provisions in the Affordable Care Act, she said.

The board is not currently seeking a tax increase.

Ogden School District

This year's tentative budget does not include a tax increase, but Ogden residents will vote Tuesday on whether to levy a tax to refurbish and operate two community swimming pools located on school district property. Ogden School District Business Administrator Eugene Hart said if approved, the tax would amount to $24 per year on the average Ogden residence, which is valued at $120,400.

"We just don’t think it's right to take money out of the classroom to operate the pools, so we're putting this toward the public," he said.

The current budget funds steps and lanes, and Hart said now that negotiations with teachers have been finalized, the budget will be amended to include a 1 percent cost of living adjustment.

Ogden's budget also includes a number of cuts in addition to the community pools, which were made in an effort to close a $2.7 million deficit. Several part-time reading assistant positions and most of the district's librarians have been eliminated.

In addition to those cuts, Hart said roughly $200,000 in staff cuts have been made to various departments in the district.

Provo School District

District Business Administrator Kerry Smith said the district has cut $300,000 in ongoing funding from the budget through "belt-tightening measures" that do not result in signficant effects to individual departments or personnel.

The district is not seeking a tax increase this year, and, on average, teachers will receive a 2 percent salary as part of the district's implementation of SB64, which establishes performance-based pay through an annual evaluation process.

Salt Lake School District

Earlier this month, the Salt Lake City Board of Education approved a tax increase that would generate $3.6 million for the district and is expected to cost homeowners an additional $12.65 per year for every $100,000 of assessed property value.

The tax increase will close a $3.6 million shortfall in the budget necessary to maintain existing programs.

Weber School District

The Weber Board of Education is not seeking a tax increase this year, district spokesman Nate Taggart said. He said the budget will maintain programs, with no significant departmental or personnel cuts expected.

Negotiations with teacher and employee groups are ongoing, Taggart said, but it is anticipated that funding for steps and lanes will be approved and possibly some form of cost of living adjustment.

"We'll have to wait until it all falls together," he said.

Attempts to reach Nebo School District officials on Friday were unsuccessful.


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