Recently the Park City School District’s Board of Education approved of purchasing a home for its new Superintendent to the tune of $870,000. Located in swanky Jeremy Ranch, this property is worth more than double the average home in Utah ($313,000).
In 2018, not only did the School Board purchase this property, but they also spurned taxpayers by raising the school’s property tax rate by 16.8%.
The purchase is being justified by the district’s school board as a move to ensure the superintendent lives within the community, which raises the bar for compensation that may be provided to top administrators in Utah districts.
Thanks to the action by the Park City Board, the new superintendent in Park City will not only make $235,000 salary plus 32% in benefits annually but also have her housing costs covered. We did verify that snow removal and yard maintenance on the property is to be covered by the Superintendent and not by the district.
This isn’t a new move for Park City. According to the Park Record newspaper, the district once offered its superintendent a district-owned home during the 1980s and early 1990s. The practice had been abandoned until now.
These types of abuses highlight the even larger problem that Utah has with the traditional methods of funding public education.
Under Utah’s current system of funding, which is primarily based on income and property taxes, 78% of the property tax rate is local district property taxes, the amount of property taxes per student is largely based on zip code. To put it more clearly, Park City is a high property value area in the state. Because of this, the school district can generate large amounts of revenue per student with the lowest tax rate (44% of the statewide school property tax rate average in FY 2017) and have enough left over to purchase a home for its top administrator.
Tooele School District on the other end, which has low property values, cannot generate adequate revenue with very high tax rate (140% of the statewide school property tax average in FY 2017) to keep its teachers from being poached by the higher paying Salt Lake County school districts.
The property tax funding disparity also affects each district’s ability to compete for quality teachers. Park City School District average annual total teacher compensation is over $100,000 while the statewide average is around $75,000.
If we really want to make a difference with how Utah schools are funded, we need to fix this inequity among Utah’s school districts. Adding additional money to the current school system only maintains the status quo of discrepancy based on zip code. While Tooele School District is only an example of lower funding, no other Utah school district can generate the astonishing amount of local funding that Park City School District does.
We call on the state legislature, the state school board, local school boards, and taxpayers in every community to stand up to this inequity among school districts. It is obscene that one school district can purchase a house in the most expensive housing market in the state for an administrator, while other districts are struggling to keep their teachers.
The solution can be done without additional tax increases. We as Utahns should believe all of Utah’s students deserve a high-quality education and not only those who live in the most elite areas of our state.