August 18, 2010
Rosemary Winters

School taxes in Davis County will go up next year — but not as much as expected.

Following a lively public hearing with more than 150 taxpayers, the Davis School District Board of Education pared down a proposed tax hike from $95 to $60 a year on a $200,000 home. The increase will generate $8 million a year for schools, helping to plug a $31 million shortfall for the upcoming school year.

“We’re hurting,” said Farmington resident Peter Cannon. “The economy is killing us and we cannot pay what you’re asking.”

More than three dozen people — most opposed to the tax hike, in any amount — spoke at the two-hour hearing. Comments were punctuated by bursts of applause and catcalls from the audience. Board President Marian Storey had to remind attendees, who frequently interrupted board members, to “be civil.”

“The response you’re seeing tonight is extraordinary,” said Jacki Evans of the Utah Taxpayers Association, noting she had attended a number of such hearings. “You shouldn’t be pushing your pain onto the taxpayers so you can balance your budget.”

Several teachers and support staffers spoke in favor of the boost. Davis district made $24 million in cuts, such as boosting class sizes by one pupil and shortening the school year by two days, but it funded $5.2 million for employee raises after freezing wages in 2009-10.

“We must renew our commitment to adequately fund quality public schools,” said Susan Firmage, president of the teachers’ Davis Education Association, noting teachers are being paid for four fewer days annually this year than two years ago. “The action the school board will take tonight is a step in that direction.”

Many attendees said they lived on fixed incomes and could not afford a tax increase. Some suggested their own cost-saving measures for the district, from whacking teachers’ raises and cutting the superintendent’s salary to ejecting students who are undocumented immigrants.

“I would like to suggest a cut,” said Gary Fox of Fruit Heights. “That is to cut the subject of evolution out of schools. It serves no purpose to reading, writing and arithmetic.”

The Davis school board reduced the tax hike, in part, because of new money it could receive as part of a recent boost to education funding approved by Congress. Davis could receive $10 million of the $101 million in federal money expected to flow to Utah.

But three attendees of the hearing urged the Davis board not to accept “Obama money.”

“I’m a retired federal servant and received no increase in my income,” said Ken Wilks of Layton. “I recommend the school board exercise similar control and make no increases and do not depend on Obama money.”

Board member James Clark said he will take $10 million for schools, even though it is one-time money that will not address long-term needs. He said he was upset by the bulk of the comments, noting “only 10 percent” were about educating kids.

“What it boils down to in this state is we have a lot of children. But I wonder if we have the will to properly educate them,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of discontent out there — and I understand that. But my job as your representative is to find out and [do] what’s best for the kids in this district.”

A recent district survey of 400 Davis County residents found that 65 percent were willing to pay up to $65 more in property taxes a year to support schools.