Property owners in the Granite School District have escaped a tax increase to support local schools in the 1998-99 school year, but conditions in the shrinking school district suggest increases may be necessary in the future.

The school district adopted at $356 million budget for the upcoming school year, nearly $18 million more than the current year's financial plan.Enrollment projections suggest 73,665 students will attend Granite schools next year, a loss of more than 5,000 students within the last five years. At the same time, property values have increased, helping to somewhat offset revenue losses since funding formulas are based on headcounts. However, state tax laws prevent school districts from reaping substantial windfalls.

If property values escalate, taxing entities have to lower their tax rates accordingly. If projected revenues exceed a certain amount, school districts have to hold hearings to inform the public before acting.

Budget officer Mitch Robinson said the budget reflects $1.4 million to hire teachers in the seventh and eighth grades, part of a legislative initiative to lower class sizes in middle schools.

"We estimate we can pick up 36 teachers in the junior highs with that amount of money," Robinson said.

While Granite school population is dropping overall, the district is experiencing growth west of I-15. District planners have recommended building a new elementary school at 6100 W. 3100 South, to open in September 2000.

A 10-room addition to Brockbank Junior High is contemplated to eliminate the use of portable classrooms. Construction of a new junior high school in the vicinity of Brockbank, Hunter and Jefferson junior highs is also under consideration. The district projects it will build two additional secondary schools by 2030.

While bonding and state funds are two mechanisms school districts can use to build new schools and hire teachers, the pinch comes in finding money to pay administrators, support staff, the light and gas bills, and to maintain the building.

The fixed costs of operating an elementary school - not counting teacher pay and benefits - is approximately $263,000 a year. At the junior high level, the cost runs about $770,000 a year.

A recent survey of nearly 400 parents suggests parents are willing to pay more property tax to address building issues.

Eighty-one percent of the parents surveyed said they would support a moderate tax increase to build new schools or add classrooms in crowded neighborhoods. For purposes of the survey, a moderate tax increase was defined as a $20 tax hike on a $100,000 home. That would raise about $5.5 million a year.

The telephone survey of parents - 90 percent of whom are homeowners - conducted by a trained team of PTA volunteers also found that:

- 86 percent would support a moderate tax increase for seismic upgrades of schools.

- 82 percent would pay more taxes for major repairs and upgrades of older buildings such as roofing and heating. On average, the school district's buildings are 37 years old.

- 72 percent indicated they would pay higher taxes to air condition schools.

While a tax increase is not contemplated next year, secondary students and adults will pay more for school lunch next year. Elementary lunches will remain at $1 each while junior high and high school meals will be increased to $1.15 and $1.50 respectively. The price of adult meals will be hiked a dime to $1.90.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

School budget: Granite District

Total 1998-99 budget: $356 million

Total 1997-98 budget: $338.2 million

Where it comes from:

State funds: $212.9 million

Local taxes and fees: $90.4 million

Federal funds: $25 million

Where it goes

Instruction: $200.3 million

Support services: $110.9 million

Capital projects: $43.1 million

Debt service: NONE

Total tax rate: .005815

Assessed valuation: $13.2 BILLION