Davis County legislators were given a feast while officials talked about the famine in school district coffers Thursday night.
The school district fattened up Davis County's three state senators and a handful of the county's eight representatives on chicken cordon bleu and coconut cream pie before Superintendent Richard Kendell asked for more meat for the district's skin-and-bone budgets.Kendell asked the legislators to fund school growth, particularly in five high-growth districts, increase the limit on the state's basic school funding formula to allow teacher salary increases, leave the current tax structure alone and renew a local funding incentive law that expires this year.
"First, I would ask that you make time to let our economy run its course without significant changes in the tax structure. We have felt we have been at the end of a yo-yo economy for a long, long time," Kendell said, noting that significant changes have been made in the tax structure three out of the past five years. Those changes have caused uncertainty for school planning and budgeting.
He explained that during each of the next five years, the district expects to add enough students to fill a high school. The district student population is expected to rise from 52,000 to 58,000. Davis, along with Alpine, Cache, Jordan and Granite districts, will assume most of the growth in the state, Kendell said.
However, Kendell said, these districts"are among the poorest in the state. They also have the highest taxes . . . and are very much in debt. The Legislature needs to provide full funding for growth and reinstate the local incentive program."
He would like that program to include helping schools that change to year-round schedules with air-conditioning costs. Kendell said his district will have a number of year-round schools within the next few years.
Dissatisfaction among teachers who have gone without cost-of-living increases for the past three years, soaring health insurance costs and federally-mandated asbestos clean-up programs are reasons legislators should raise the state's weighted pupil unit or funding formula, Kendell said.
"Every year my wish list shrinks. I guess I am moving from being an idealist to a realist," Kendell said.
In response to Kendell's comments, Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, said he understands problems faced by the Davis district.
"There is no question that you in the Davis district have not kept up with maintenance," Barlow said.
He said he believes the Legislature will come up with funding for a 3 to 4 percent teacher cost-of-living increase. He also said the Legislature is likely to renew the local incentive measure in some form, probably as a line-item expenditure.
"Last year public education had the highest percentage of the budget in the history of the state. I don't think we will be able to keep that percentage, but we will try to keep as high as we can," Barlow said.
Rep. Stan Smedley, R-Bountiful, said while it is difficult to make predictions about the upcoming session, he has noted a better public perception of education. He said that, along with a large percentage of education-connected legislators, should help the educational system.
"As there becomes a better understanding between education and the needs of the state both will benefit," he said.