With half the money sought, and just a one-time infusion at that, House Republicans on Thursday tossed out ideas on how to best "equalize" money available to build schools statewide, an issue brought on by the Jordan School District split.
Spread money thinner to involve more school districts, with a minimum $100,000 apiece? Or set up a statewide pool, with half of the districts winners and the others losers? Or something else?
"I just think everyone just wants to get into the act," said Senate Majority Whip Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, and sponsor of the bill at issue, SB48. "I'm basically comfortable with everyone throwing their hat in the ring on this. My consideration is we do the best thing we can in the state."
SB48 sought $29 million to essentially double the amount in the Capital Outlay Foundation Program, which would help 25 school districts without big businesses to tax get enough money to build schools.
But budget priorities cut the price tag to about $15 million in one-time cash.
How the money would shake out for each district was still being calculated Thursday, Eastman said. But getting it wouldn't be tied to property tax cuts anymore.
And unchanged would be the controversial Salt Lake County equalization piece, where four school districts would pool money to give $12 million to the growing west side of Jordan District, left with less than half its tax base when the east side voted to secede.
"It doesn't give the property tax assistance we were hoping for," Eastman said. "But we (would) accomplish equalization for the district that split and start the process" others would follow.
But some representatives have an eye on changing Eastman's bill.
Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, proposes spreading the $15 million to 33 school districts (all but Daggett, Kane, North Summit, Park City, Rich, South Summit and Wasatch). "Minimum allocations" between $100,000 and $200,000 would go to districts whose tax base per student is below the state average.
Tax-wealthy Park City would get nothing under the plan, as would Daggett District. But the income per-capita gap between the two is night and day, with Daggett at the state's bottom, said Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, questioning the idea's fairness.
But Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George, urged colleagues to view the matter globally.
"I don't care what spreadsheet you have, you're going to look at districts you represent and try and tweak the formula based on the districts you represent," Last said. "I think as the Legislature we need to make a serious effort at trying to equalize across the state."
That's what Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, wants to do. His HB393 would expand Eastman's countywide equalization to all but 16 of Utah's smallest school districts. Twelve districts would get money, which would come with a corresponding tax cut so it's revenue neutral (school boards would hold hearings to keep tax rates where they are, essential to pull in more money).
"(SB48's $15 million) has nothing to do with equalization; it's subsidization," Tilton said. "I think the body should have a chance to decide, and I think will have a chance to decide, what a better statewide policy would be. I support the Eastman proposal (as the bill's House sponsor), but I think it's a temporary solution."
It's uncertain whether Tilton would seek to run his bill separately or substitute Eastman's. "All proposals need to be debated," he said.
• In other news, SB71 could change to let Jordan District school board members keep their seats for the remaining two years in their four-year term, guaranteeing east-side representatives a spot on the east-district's inaugural school board.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is pondering the amendment to make a smoother break.
"I think there are continuity issues there. I hate to lose all the institutional knowledge," he said.
But SB71's sponsoring Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, isn't so sure."I think everyone needs to stand for re-election," she said. "We're still arm-wrestling over that."