As part of the Nov. 6 general election, voters in nine of Utah's 40 school districts will decide on whether to assume a two-mill property tax increase - with the money to be used to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. Given the fact that Utah generally has the largest average class size in the nation, these modest tax hikes seem necessary.
The 1990 Legislature authorized school districts to raise property taxes by two mills - without elections - as part of the education finance package approved by lawmakers. But most of the districts opted to give voters a chance first to decide on the tax leeway.Two districts - Granite and Tooele - did approve the increase without putting the matter to a public vote, but public petitions have forced the issue onto the ballot, although Granite officials say the 60 extra teachers they hired may have to be released if the leeway is rejected.
Other districts with the leeway issue facing voters include Duchesne, Grand, Murray, Nebo, Sevier, Uintah and Weber.
If voters in any of the nine districts approve the tax hike, the average increase would be $24 on a $100,000 home or $32 on a $100,000 locally assessed business. The tax bite, of course, would be less on property valued at less than those figures.
An extra $2 a month in taxes on a $100,000 home hardly seems an onerous price to pay in light of the serious need to reduce class sizes. Smaller classes simply mean more time for the teacher to give individual attention to students. And smaller classes create a better learning atmosphere.
Even so, the school levies face an uphill struggle. For years, a strong tax protest movement has been underway in Utah. It's a movement that may have grown even stronger in response to the recent decision by Congress to increase a number of federal taxes.
Utah voters should take a serious look at the crowded classroom problem and do what they can to ease it - even in a modest and limited way.