SALT LAKE CITY — Many school districts along the Wasatch Front are cutting budgets again this summer while others are raising taxes to make ends meet for the 2011-12 school year.
With about $50 million in additional state money to work with and with the basic unit used to determine per-pupil funding increasing by about $240, some might assume all schools are running in the black. But lower local property-tax values in some areas and a shake-up in the way state education programs are funded have complicated matters.
"There was more money appropriated for education on the whole," said Todd Hauber, associate superintendent of business services at the State Office of Education. "But it all depends on how that money is programmed."
At the beginning of the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers made preliminary cuts to education programs then added the money back in, but not necessarily in the same places.
Depending on which state programs schools participate in, they could wind up with a net loss or a net gain for the coming year, Hauber said. For example, multiple programs designed to fund at-risk youths were consolidated, and about $8 million from those programs was put elsewhere. So districts reliant on those funds will have less to work with. Meanwhile, state funding for school districts that can't generate enough tax revenue to cover their costs increased by more than $23 million, having a positive impact on participating districts.
"Every district will have a unique story," Hauber said.
The Salt Lake School District, for instance, reports taking an overall 2.3 percent hit in state funding, due to its large population of at-risk students. But the Legislature's funding for enrollment growth benefits districts like Alpine that are rapidly expanding.
While lawmakers increased the weighted pupil unit — the per-pupil amount the state from $2,577 to $2,816, those weren't new dollars. Districts previously received money to pay for retirement benefits and Social Security in addition to WPU dollars. About $195 million was taken from the fund many districts used to pay out retirement in order to increase the WPU.
All in all, many districts are doing better than last year, but some are still hurting.
Here's a look at how some of the larger districts along the Wasatch Front are managing their finances:
Alpine didn't face much of a budget shortage this year, according to the district, but does plan to use $7 million in one-time federal funds to pay for some ongoing and future years' expenses.
"Our district is known for being pretty conservative," district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley said. "Because of that, we were able to kind of work through things these last few years."
The district will see an influx of 2,374 students next year, which will require hiring 90 new full-time teachers, which there is room for in the budget.
Canyons entered the budgeting process facing a possible shortage of around $11.3 million due to restoring five furlough days, which it used last year to save the district money, among other factors. The district also had a drop in state funding of about $3.7 million.
According to the tentative budget approved by the board Tuesday, about $9.2 million of the gap will be covered by shifting money from a fund used for building projects and other capital expenses into the district's general fund. The remaining shortfall was accounted for through other "belt-tightening" measures, according to the district.
The district and local teacher's union are still negotiating and do not have a contract in place. The district factored teacher raises in the budget in anticipation of an agreement.
Like last year, the Davis School Board is turning to taxpayers for help covering this year's $18.7 million shortfall caused by increased insurance costs for employees, funding teacher raises, an influx of 900 new students and restoring furlough days the district took last year.
The board is hoping an $8.5 million tax increase to be finalized following an August truth-in-taxation hearing will help cover part of the gap as well as lower class sizes. For the rest of the shortfall, the district will use one-time federal funds and will require employees to shoulder part of their benefits increases, among other solutions.
Last year, Davis faced a $31 million shortfall.
Granite School District originally faced a $12.8 million shortfall for the upcoming school year that it will address by raising taxes and making cuts.
The district's board of education voted to trim $7.6 million from the budget after teachers and staff agreed to cut their benefits by about $2 million. The district is also not replacing some district office staff who leave. To cover the remaining $5 million gap, the board approved a tax increase that will cost $30 for the owner of a $220,000 home. If the board hadn't approved the tax hike, the district said it would have cut elementary arts specialists, social workers and psychologists and district office secretaries who answer parent inquiries.
Last year, Granite faced a $17 million shortfall.
Provo had a shortfall of about $400,000, which it plans to solve by hiring classroom aides rather than hire additional full-time teachers where possible. The district will also cut budgets at some individual schools and the district office and has reduced the amount of out-of-state travel.
Jordan had a "small deficit" this year when compared to years past, said spokesman Steve Dunham.
The district received $2.1 million less in state funding, Dunham said, which the district will cover through shifting money from a fund used for building projects and other capital expenses into the district's general fund, a process temporarily allowed by the Legislature given the economic climate.
"The year of the (Jordan, Canyons split) we had a $40 million deficit, last year we had a $29.1 million deficit," he said. "This is a budget that kind of speaks to the work the district has put into making cuts where necessary."
The district won't be funding raises traditionally given to teachers based on experience and continuing education. The district had planned to cut them from last year's budget, but was able to partially fund them through one-time federal funds.
"There are no extras in there," Dunham said. "We'll take where we are considering where we've been."
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Salt Lake had to make up for about $5.8 million this budget cycle.
"Largely, our shortfall this year was because of less money in state funding," said spokesman Jason Olsen.
The district received less funding from the state for the at-risk students it serves than in years past. Retirement costs for employees also shot up. To deal with the shortage, the district plans to raise about $1.7 million in taxes, which will equal out to be about $11.50 on a $100,000 home. Salt Lake will also not refill certain vacant personnel positions and in addition to other methods of increasing efficiencies.
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