The push for smaller class sizes took a licking Tuesday as voters in six of nine school districts turned thumbs down on proposed 2-mill increases in property taxes geared to raise money for that purpose.
However, voters in Granite, Murray and Grand districts did give their approval for school boards to levy the 2 mills, generating money for more teachers, aides and other strategies to lighten class loads.In Weber, Sevier, Tooele, Duchesne, Uintah and Nebo districts, the vote went against the additional taxes. The failed tax levies caused frustration for school boards that had been given authority by the 1990 Legislature to vote 2 additional mills of property tax without voter approval.
The districts chose to ask their voters to approve the levies, nevertheless, because of a provision that would have allowed for the electorate to challenge such a board decision. Tuesday's vote seemed to prove the boards in the six districts were correct in their fears that a tax levy wouldn't go unchallenged.
Granite Board President Lynn Davidson rejoiced in the final outcome of Tuesday's election, in which the verdict flopped from the win side to the loss side several times as returns trickled in.
"We appreciate the support of the voters, our patrons, in sustaining the board in its desire to reduce class sizes," said Davidson.
The board shifted money from other budget accounts to hire additional teachers for the current school year in an attempt to bring class sizes down. The money will be returned to those categories next year, the board said, and the class-size issue would have been put on hold without the positive outcome of the election.
Granite will receive a state guarantee on the mills since the district does not generate $20 per student from its tax base, nearly doubling the value of the levy.
In Murray District, the successful ballot on the tax levy will add about $360,000 to school coffers to get more personnel into classrooms. Board members promised district patrons that they will see an improvement in school performance in return for the additional money. A citizen advisory committee will monitor the progress toward fulfillment of that promise.
The Legislature passed the 2-mill provision in the heat of the final moments of the winter session, largely to pacify the Utah Education Association, which was pressing for money to address the class-size issue. Utah has the largest classes in the country _ and it appears they will stay that way if property taxes are the expected source of succor.
Garfield District got the go-ahead from voters to float a $1.5 million general obligation bond to add a gymnasium and auditorium to Bryce Valley High School in Tropic.
Morgan District didn't fare so well, as voters nixed a proposed $4.9 million bond by a hefty 70 percent margin.
Even in Sevier District, where school officials had guaranteed improvement in student performance if voters supported the 2-mill option, the proposal failed by a narrow margin, 51 percent to 49 percent.