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Districts get an earful on tax increases, but 3 Utah boards OK teacher pay raises

SANDY — A standing-room-only crowd addressed the Canyons School District board Tuesday, many of them endorsing a tax increase to raise teacher pay but others calling it a "burdensome" increase.

The tax increase — which will raise property taxes about $12 monthly on an average home — will be used to increase all teacher salaries and boost starting pay for teachers to $50,000 a year. The Canyons board voted unanimously to approve the tax hike following the Truth in Taxation hearing.

The Davis and Jordan school districts also approved tax increases Tuesday night.

Members of the Jordan School District’s Board of Education listen to public comment as they hold a truth in taxation hearing at Riverton High School in Riverton on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. The board voted to raise property taxes to boost teacher salaries.
Members of the Jordan School District’s Board of Education listen to public comment as they hold a truth in taxation hearing at Riverton High School in Riverton on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. The board voted to raise property taxes to boost teacher salaries.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Some teachers said the pay raise will be life changing. It means they will be able to quit second jobs, go back to school to obtain graduate degrees and afford housing near their schools.

Stephanie Lauritzen, a Canyons District teacher for 11 years, got emotional as she addressed the board.

"This pay raise means I can spend more time with my kids," said Lauritzen, a single parent who has had to work two jobs to support her family.

Lauritzen said she has been offered two jobs in the private sector but the pay raise means she can stick with a career she loves.

"Teaching is my passion but I need to be able to support my kids," she said.

Bob Nielson said the tax increase is excessive, particularly for people on fixed incomes.

"This is a huge increase. I believe it’s over the top," he said.

Nielson said he doesn't oppose doing more for teachers but he is opposed to the amount, particularly on top of property tax increases for school construction bonds.

"They are Taj Mahals, there's no doubt about that," he said of some school buildings.

Board member Chad Iverson said he, too, questions what the district pays for school construction, saying a school doesn't need a dome for students "to get high ACT scores."

Members of the public address the Jordan School District’s Board of Education members during a truth in taxation hearing at Riverton High School in Riverton on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. The board voted to raise property taxes to boost teacher salaries.
Members of the public address the Jordan School District’s Board of Education members during a truth in taxation hearing at Riverton High School in Riverton on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. The board voted to raise property taxes to boost teacher salaries.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

"To me, we need to put the money in the hands of the teachers before spending it on buildings," he said.

That said, Iverson said he would vote for the increase and he called out the Utah Legislature for not doing more, particularly when it had a $1 billion surplus.

But other board members spoke in support of paying teachers more to recruit and retain high-quality educators.

The tax increase will fund a $7,665 annual raise for all certified teachers in an agreement with the Canyons Education Association.

The pay increase means the Canyons will be among the highest paying school districts statewide.

The pay raise includes $500 for each educator provided under the Utah Legislature's Teacher and Student Success Act that appropriated more than $98 million statewide for local education initiatives. The act allows all schools to use 25 percent of the funding for teacher salary and benefits.

Still, some speakers said the Utah Legislature needs to do much more to lift the burdens of local school districts, particularly in light of this year's state surplus.

As the Canyons District worked through its hearing, hearings were underway before the Davis School District and Jordan School District boards. Both boards approved increases to boost teacher pay.

The Davis District Board of Education voted to increase property taxes by $58.74 annually on a $338,000 home. Starting pay for teachers will go up to $43,798.

In Jordan District, the property taxes on a residence assessed at $400,000 will go up $72 a year. Its starting teacher pay will be $48,000 annually. Teachers broke out into applause when the board announced its vote.