August 20, 2010
Tom Busselberg

Members of the public attending a school district truth-in-taxation hearing were anything but passive Tuesday night. But after all was said and done, the tax hike levied was less than two-thirds of what had originally been proposed.

The two-hour plus meeting was peppered with boos, outbursts against President Obama and taking federal tax money, insinuation that administrators are paid too much and their numbers should be cut.

One of the dozens of speakers who addressed the board of education claimed principals do little more than look out the window and clean up messes on the floor, while another man added a need to discontinue any teaching of evolution.

Another speaker derided the district, claiming it is starting a Planned Parenthood-sponsored maturation program.

A couple of hundred people squeezed into the Davis School District administration building auditorium, with one wall even lined with people who had to stand.

In the end, the board unanimously passed two parts of a proposed tax hike, saying even before the public comment period it would not have to impose two others.

The property tax bill on a home assessed at a $200,000 value will have just over $60 a year added to its tax bill, about 37 percent less than the $95 originally proposed.

“Why can’t we learn to save money?” asked retired educator and police officer Frank Cline of Bountiful.

“I get about $50,000 a year to support three people, and my (home) assessment has gone from $89,000 to $184,000,” meaning the school tax bill has jumped from $280 to $667.

“The district should look at making cuts like I need to,” he said, asking why the new Syracuse High School had to cost $50 million. “Why can’t we learn to save money?” he asked.

“Our bill is $300 more for the school district than last year,” said Joyce Winters, adding, “We can’t do it (pay it).”

“We’re just coming out of a two-year recession,” another speaker said, with audience members shouting that “we’re not coming out of it!”

Layton resident Doug Bundy blamed the financial problems hitting everyone on “the bankers and derivatives.”

“You need to work on your budgeting skills. If you can’t can’t afford it, don’t buy it,” said Lamont Class of West Point, adding that migrant worker-related help for children and education for illegal immigrants should be stopped.

Others felt there were different issues that needed to be addressed.

“Decrease administration by 30 percent, cut the bureaucracy. Teachers should teach, not be babysitters,” said Bountiful resident Dean Fordham.

There were several teachers and other educators who spoke in support of more funding.

Among their arguments were that salaries hadn’t been increased for two years, two instructional and two professional (preparation) days had been cut which meant a loss in pay, and that there isn’t sufficient funds for adequate classroom supplies.

They also spoke about the harm larger class sizes create in lessening the opportunity for regular one-on-one teaching situations, particularly in elementary schools.

“We must renew our commitment to adequate public schools,” said Susan Firmage, president of the Davis Education Association (a teachers’ union).

Others focused on the impact of taxes on residents.

“The Utah Taxpayers Association is still in opposition to the two (tax) proposals,” said Jacki Evans, a research analyst with the private, business-backed tax watchdog group.

She said business has to get along with less money, as do community members. “Others find ways to cut. You should do the same.”

“We have cut over $60 million in the last two years, 20 percent from the district office,” said board member Barbara Smith.

“We just let go of 20-year-old buses. The cuts that we’ve taken in the last two years have been with very heavy hearts.”

“We’re getting 1,000 new students a year,” said board member Jim Clark. “Growth is not funded. If there’s $10 million (in government funds available), I’m going to take it.

“We don’t have any choice but to fund No Child Left Behind. There are a lot of things we have no control over,” he said. “I’m self-employed. I’m not making the money I was before. But we have a lot of kids. We’re balancing the budget on the backs of teachers.”