Legislative Prioritiesposted Mar 03, 2014
As the 2014 session of the Utah State Legislature gears up for the last few days, I would like to share with our readers a few priorities in hopes that you may support us as the session draws to a close.
You probably already know that Utah’s per student spending is the lowest in the United States. Given the nature of our state’s demographics and the distance between us and the state that is next to last, our status simply will not change in the foreseeable future. It is, however, important to guard against further erosion of the financial base for education.
During the current legislative session, there have been several proposals to do just that. Since all personal and corporate income taxes and over half of our county’s property taxes go to support education, any changes in the law or the ways that those taxes are distributed will have an impact on revenue for education.
As a people, we do believe in local control. We hear a great deal about federal encroachment on the power of the state. When it comes to our school district, encroachment by the federal government is minimal compared to that which we experience from the Utah State Legislature. The Legislature has become a “super” school board regulating, sometimes in great detail, what happens at the local district level.
During the current session, there have been proposals that would provide more centralized control over local decision making. Some of those proposals could produce good results that may improve education; others aren’t so good. The reality is that each proposal erodes the ability of our locally elected School Board to respond to the specific situations that we are dealing with in our community. One of our priorities is to protect the right of local officials to make decisions that affect our local schools.
The two most important priorities for our district are to fully fund growth and to gain a reasonable increase in the value of the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). If growth is not funded, all districts in the State are hurt due to the fact that the actual value of the WPU will change based on the number of children who enroll in the fall. We have been very fortunate in the fact that the Legislature has been supportive of providing additional money for increased enrollment even during periods of hard economic times. This year, our legislators have become aware of the fact that simply providing for more WPUs doesn’t “fully fund” growth. There are many services provided for students that are affected by increased enrollment but not covered by an increase in the number of WPUs. The $64.4 million being discussed as the amount needed to “fully fund” growth is much closer to the actual need than we’ve seen in the past.
One of the realities that we face is that the foundation for a good education is to provide our students with the best teachers and administrators we can find. Another key point is to surround those students, teachers, and administrators with a competent support staff including secretaries, custodians/maintenance staff, food service folks, technicians, para professionals, transportation staff, and central office administration. To attract and retain good people, it is important to provide a competitive wage with decent benefits.
The base salary for our employees hasn’t changed since the 2008-2009 school year. A total of 635 of our 1054 employees who work over 20 hours a week have not had any change in their salary for multiple years. At the same time, all increases in health insurance for the past two years have been passed on to our employees. The health insurance plan that was “free” in 2008-2009 now costs as much as $3,500 a year. The benefits in the plan are not as good as they were in 2008-2009.
The current talk is to provide a 2.5% increase in the value of the WPU. The actual increase that we would experience depends upon our enrollment and how the funds are distributed. We already know that statewide the first 1.0% - 1.2% will be consumed by an increase in State retirement. Last year, the increase in State retirement consumed nearly all the new funds we received. If the planned increase is reduced by pushing funds away from the value of the WPU into special programs, our employees will be asked to suffer again. Ample money to make a difference is available and is already scheduled for public education if the legislators will recognize the need to funnel it through the Weighted Pupil Unit formula.