Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Following public comment critical of the state Legislature, the Salt Lake City School Board voted Tuesday to approve a property tax increase for the 2013-14 budget.
The tax increase will raise $3.6 million for the district and cost homeowners an additional $12.65 per year for every $100,000 of assessed property value.
Only three members of the public — including Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, and former school board member Amanda Thorderson — spoke during the board's meeting, and all of them did so in favor of the proposed tax increase.
Thorderson said her family was willing to forego "pizza night" once a year to cover the cost of the tax increase. She also put the blame for local district tax increases on the Legislature, saying state lawmakers have failed to adequately fund Utah's schools.
"They're satisfied that Utah is on the bottom of the heap in per-student expenditures," Thorderson said. "It's a disgrace, and everyone in this room should hold the Legislature responsible for their lack of concern for our children."
Briscoe was equally critical of the Legislature, saying the decisions made at the state Capitol have caused havoc for schools and school districts.
"The reason why it's necessary for the school board to consider this is because the Utah State Legislature is not doing its job," he said.
During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers approved a 2 percent increase to the weighted pupil unit, which is used in calculating per-pupil funding. But district officials say growing retirement costs requires almost all of the new state dollars. Schools this year have also seen a reduction in federal funding due to budget cuts known as sequestration.
Since 2009, the Salt Lake City School District has faced $26 million in cuts, according to district spokesman Jason Olsen. Without a tax increase, the district is facing a $3.6 million shortfall to both meet rising employee costs and maintain existing programs, district officials said.
During the board's discussion of the tax increase, board member Michael Clára proposed an amendment to the budget that would give teachers a 3 percent cost-of-living salary increase.
Clára said the higher pay would contribute to teacher retention. He also said he's uncertain about how the new money would be spent.
"I'd rather have a proposal on the table where I know where the money is going," he said.
Board member Laurel Young said was open to addressing a salary increase in the future, but she opposed hastily amending the budget after months of consideration.
"We have been discussing this current budget for three months, and we have had plenty and ample opportunity to bring this subject up," she said.
Clára's motion to amend ultimately failed. He then cast the sole vote in opposition to the proposed 2013-14 budget and tax increase.
The date for a public truth-in-taxation hearing has been tentatively set for Aug. 6.
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