Growth, fluctuations in property values, state contributions to local school districts and a number of other factors create financial differences among school districts that share boundaries.
While all four of Salt Lake County's school districts saw relatively little change in the actual amount of money in their budgets for the 1989-90 school year, there is a difference in how much each has to spend per student, caused primarily by variances in tax base, how much additional money voters have approved and population shifts in the county.The total budgets, with 1988-89 listed first and 1987-88 second, are: Granite, $211,877,279 and $200,667,145; Jordan, $161,803,519 and $159,192,627; Murray, $19,699,724 and $20,156,079; and Salt Lake, $85,415,736 and $82,739,415.
Based on total budget figures, Salt Lake District has the greatest budgeted amount per student for 1988-89 at $3,566, followed by Murray, $3,475; Granite, $2,798; and Jordan, $2,583.
However, the total budget does not necessarily represent the amount of money spent directly on students. Capital budgets vary in the four districts and some of the money in these funds is being saved, not spent, as districts anticipate future building needs and other major capital proj-ects. The districts also raise different amounts of additional money through voted leeways.
With no increases in the weighted pupil unit or taxes, budgets in Murray and Salt Lake School districts basically replay the 1987-88 versions.
Neither district is experiencing the kind of growth that is squeezing Jordan and Granite.
As the flight to the suburbs picked up in the last three decades, enrollment in the Salt Lake schools declined after reaching a peak in 1958. Projected enrollment for 1988-89 shows a decline of 411 students from 1987-88. That could drop Salt Lake a notch in its ranking among the state's school districts. It is now the fifth largest school district, but it may have to trade places with sixth-ranked Ogden School District this year.
Although Murray has experienced a lot of growth in its west-side schools in recent years, the tiny district only projects an overall enrollment increase of 25 to 30 students in 1988-89.
Murray has been eyeing property on its western boundaries, so that could change dramatically if the Taylorsville-Bennion area is annexed by the city. Utah law requires that when a city with a school district annexes unincorporated area, the schools become part of the city's system.
"That would be quite difficult for us," said Kent Gardner, spokesman for Granite District. "We have a great investment in that area." Several schools, including Taylorsville High, are within the area in question.
With state budgets squeezed by an economic downturn, contributions to Granite and Jordan have not kept pace with the actual growth in the districts. The state's weighted pupil unit - income tax money equalized and passed on to the districts based on a complicated formula - has not increased in recent years, taxing the ability of the districts to absorb more students and keep up with general inflation.
At the local level, the state requires that each district levy 21.28 mills for education, and allows them to levy up to 10 additional mills, with voter approval. Salt Lake District has the highest voted leeway in the county at 9 mills - just one mill below the state's 10-mill cap. Granite has 7 leeway mills, Murray has 6.93 and Jordan has 5.
The districts also have the option under state laws to levy additional mills for transportation and other stated categories.
For the past two years, the Legislature has required that an additional 2 mills be levied in the districts, with the income distributed according to the usual equalization formulas. About half the districts have lost money through this levy and it has not been popular. Districts have been told not to anticipate the 2-mill income for their 1990-91 budgets.
Because of these and other taxing variables, the amount of tax generated for education in the various districts is not the same. On an $80,000 home in Murray District, the tax dedicated to education is $386. The same home in Salt Lake District would generate $388; in Granite District $431 and in Jordan District $436.
Salt Lake's $85.46 million budget is actually a 3.3 percent increase over last year's $82.73 million. At budget hearings, district business administrator Gary Harmer explained that Salt Lake's budget includes a projected $1.9 million deficit. The school district plans to absorb its deficit by using a fund balance, the money budgeted but not spent at the end of the previous fiscal year.
The budget increase is not due to program growth. It is caused by salary increases related to inflationary changes in Social Security and retirement benefits and increases in health and other insurance rates for the district's 2,215 employees. Another factor is salary adjustments for employees who move up the salary ladder.
Richard Clark, Murray School District clerk-treasurer, said his district's slight decline was related to a drop in capital expenditures. The main capital projects in last year's budget were the demolition of the old wing of the Liberty School and the construction of the school's new addition.
Both Murray and Salt Lake expect to retire their debts within two years, and neither plans more bonding now. Salt Lake's three bonds of $7.8 million require yearly payments of $4 million in principal, interest and bonding agent fees. Murray, too, had $7 million in bonds, with $1.6 million of the debt still outstanding. Murray must pay $1.15 million in debt service this year.
Teachers in Salt Lake County districts, like most teachers across the state, haven't had pay raises for two years.
Both Granite and Jordan have been involved in extensive construction of new buildings for the past two decades, while Salt Lake District has been closing units to deal with shrinkage. However, the south valley districts are moving to more year-round schools and other utilization alternatives to avoid building. Jordan is planning to extend year-round scheduling to secondary schools in the next year or two, depending on growth, said Patti Dahl, district spokeswoman. The district is not planning any bonding in the immediate future.
Jordan is expecting approximately 700 new students next fall and Granite about 1,750. The two districts are cooperating to use schools as efficiently as possible without having to construct new buildings.
However, Jordan opens Mountain Shadows Elementary on its west side this fall and will open South Jordan Middle School next school year. Granite began classes last fall in Jefferson Junior High School. Hunter High School, also on the west side of the valley, is expected to begin operations in the 1990-91 school year.
Jordan went through the painful exercise this summer of whacking more than $4 million from its programs to be able to pass a balanced budget. Granite did the same thing a year ago, lopping both programs and personnel to stay within fiscal realities.
Each of the districts will receive an additional amount from the state because of the Legislature's special-session decision to give some of the tax surplus to education. An additional $7 million will be divided among the state's 40 districts, based on the usual formula. Those supplements are earmarked for textbooks and supplies - areas of critical need, according to district financial officers.