Several school districts are asking voters to approve bonds or property tax levies this November. Your Utah Taxpayers Association has reviewed the proposals in the Jordan, Cache and Logan School Districts. As detailed elsewhere in this and previous editions of The Utah Taxpayer, we oppose the Jordan School District????????s $495 million bond. We also oppose the Cache School District????????s $129 million bond, and take no position on the Logan School District????????s voted levy or $55 million bond.
Bond and Voted Levy
The Cache County School District has grown 21% over the past decade. Currently about 16,100 students attend two high schools and their feeder elementary and middle schools. The district plans to manage that growth by bonding for $129 million, which will build two additional high schools and replace or provide seismic upgrades to a number of older elementary and middle schools. The district plans to repay this bond over 20 years. If Cache voters approve this bond, the average homeowner????????s property taxes would go up $167 (the average home in the district is worth $197,000). A business worth $197,000 would see a $304 property tax hike.
If voters approve this bond, in 2016 the Cache School District will ask voters to approve an increase in their voted levy to cover operating costs of the new school buildings. The higher voted levy would raise an additional $1.8 million per year for the district, which translates into a $52 per year hike in the average homeowner????????s property taxes. The higher voted levy would raise the average business????????s property taxes another $95.
The District Wants the Bond
The Cache district????????s growth leaves little doubt that the district needs another high school. With an additional high school, about 2,000 students would attend each of the district????????s high schools.
The Cache district????????s shape is rather unique ???????? it forms a donut around the Logan School District. Because of that shape, high school students living in the north end of the district have long had to travel through the Logan School District to get to school. If the school district builds one additional high school, some students will still have to drive from the north part of the district through Logan to get to school in the south end of the district.
Even though Cache students have been driving through Logan for years, the district prefers to avoid the drive through Logan and instead plans to build two new high schools. Under this option, each of the high schools will have between 1,000 and 1,400 students. The district could cut the cost of the bond by only building one additional high school. Families throughout the district are already accustomed to driving through Logan to get to high school. Avoiding that drive would be more convenient, but the tax hike would be $48 less than what the district is proposing if it only built one new high school.
Your Taxpayers Association is also concerned that the proposed cost of building the two additional high schools is quite high. While charter schools cost between $90 and $110 per square foot, the Cache School District is estimating that its two additional high schools will cost between $161 and $172per square foot. For these reasons, your Utah Taxpayers Association opposes the Cache School District Bond.
Logan School District
Bond and Voted Levy
The Logan School District is asking voters to approve a $55 million bond, plus a $1.3 million increase in the voted levy. If approved, the bond would increase the average homeowner????????s property taxes by $72 per year, and the higher voted levy would increase property taxes on a residence by $123 per year. For a business worth $170,000, Logan School District????????s bond would increase property taxes by $131, and the voted levy would increase property taxes by $224.
Higher Voted Levy
Since 2009, the Legislature has restructured many of the line items it uses to distribute income tax dollars to local school districts. Among other things, the Legislature folded the money that used to be a line item for social security and retirement funding for school employees into the WPU (weighted pupil unit).
Because enrollment drives WPU dollars received by the district, the Legislature????????s change lowered the amount of state funding going to districts like the Logan School District that have flat student growth. In total, that change means that the Logan School District is receiving about $2.5 million less today than it did in 2009.
To accommodate that decrease in funding the Logan School District has reduced salaries throughout the district, increased class sizes and eliminated some music positions. The district would like to restore $1.3 million of that $2.5 million cut with a higher voted levy.
The district plans to spend $900,000 to reduce class sizes, invest more in STEM classes, convert a part time band teacher to full time and restore an orchestra position. It wants to use the remaining $400,000 to restore some of the salary cuts it made since the Legislature changed the funding formula.
The District Bond
The Logan School District has some of the oldest school buildings in Utah. The district has renovated them time and again to meet changing student demographics, technology and to keep up with various safety and accessibility requirements.
The dated buildings are the biggest reason why Logan School District is asking voters to approve this $55 million bond, which it will repay over 20 years. The school district plans to remodel portions of Logan High School and Ellis Elementary School, and to replace the existing Hillcrest Elementary School with a new school.
Remodeling the schools will make sure they meet applicable seismic, safety and accessibility codes. Remodeling will allow both schools to better meet the needs of their student population. For example, the cafeterias in Logan and Ellis are too small for their enrollment. The remodels will also better accommodate parking for students and faculty and eliminate an unsafe mid-block crosswalk in front of Logan High School.
Hillcrest Elementary School faces many of the same safety and accessibility problems that Logan and Ellis do. However, it will be less expensive to build a new school than to upgrade it to meet current codes. The district plans to replace it on the same site.