Letter from the Board: Education is the Strength of Our Community

By Park City School District Board of Education

From left, Erin Grady, Andrew Caplan, Anne Peters, Petra Butler, and JJ Ehlers.

The mission of Park City School District is to inspire and support all students equitably to achieve their academic and social potential. As a Board of Education, we have been elected to represent the interests of our collective community — we have heard and appreciate the community’s desire to create an educational culture that is focused on the whole child. We make decisions based on keeping our students safe, supported, engaged, challenged, and healthy.

With the new school year beginning in less than two weeks, we are thrilled that all teacher positions are filled. The biggest benefit we offer new teachers is a competitive salary, the highest in the state. At the same time, we increased compensation for returning teachers, support staff, and administrators to encourage them to stay long-term.

Our strength is in our people. We are fortunate to have outstanding staff who genuinely care about students and aspire every school year to help students achieve their potential. Employee compensation and benefits comprise nearly 80 percent of our expenditures. The gap between higher expenditures and neutral revenues is growing. Because local property taxes make up more than 90 percent of our income we knew we recognized we needed to increase taxes.

The last time we raised taxes was 2014. We firmly believe that access to a quality education is a foundation to the strength of our community, and we know our community wants to invest in education.

Our FY19 budget reflects several critical needs. Besides hiring and retaining excellent personnel, safety and security is also a priority for us. We have added interventionist at each elementary school to work with struggling students. And we have hired an additional assistant principal at Ecker Hill Middle, Treasure Mountain Junior High, and Park City High.

This year, approximately $5 million in property taxes will be sent in equalization funding to the state to be distributed to revenue strapped districts such as Alpine, Davis, Nebo, and Jordan. We are the only district in Utah that collects more money than we are authorized to receive. Last year, we sent $3 million back to the state for equalization. Recent legislation now requires that we send an additional $2 million back to the state.

In an effort to provide an equitable education for all our students, the district will now cover the cost of academic student fees. That’s nearly $700,000 in fees, which parents have paid for in past years.

Some community members have expressed concern about the compensation package for our new superintendent. We are incredible fortunate to have hired an experienced, student-centered and future-focused leader. The proposed tax increase does not include her salary or housing benefits. That is already covered under our existing budget.

We realize tax increases are never easy. We have been judicious in approving this budget and have spent many months reviewing data that supports the goals of our Strategic Plan.

Our Truth-in-Taxation hearing is set for Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 6 p.m. at the District Office, and is your chance to voice your opinion before the tax increase is finalized.

Thank you for your continued support of education. We are all partners in ensuring our children achieve their highest academic and social potential.

PCSD BOARD OF EDUCATION

Andrew Caplan, President

JJ Ehlers, Vice President

Petra Butler, Member

Erin Grady, Member

Anne Peters, Member

Jan. 10 Information Exchange Meeting Summary

In an effort to engage parents, employees, and members of the community, the Park City School District Board of Education hosts informal monthly exchange meetings. Each month the meetings are held at different schools. The following items were discussed Jan. 10 at McPolin Elementary with Board President Andrew Caplan and board member Petra Butler.

Front Office Remodels: Parents asked what the new design of the McPolin Elementary front office will look like and when it will be completed. They requested the front office staff have input into the final architectural drawing so it provides an area that is as safe as possible. Caplan said the elementary school front offices are taken longer than expected to remodel due to a delay in materials. He said the elementary offices should be finished by the end of January.

Spanish Translation: A parent asked the district to consider contracting with an outside firm for Spanish translation services.  The Superintendent is aware of the increased need for documents needing to be translated and she is including it as a FY19 budget item. Another parent noted that not a single Spanish-speaking parent was in attendance at the meeting. She encouraged the district to develop systems and processes that are more inclusive.

Budget: Caplan said the board is beginning preliminary budget discussions and hope to have the FY19 budget approved by March or April to give principals the ability to hire staff sooner than in previous years.

Reduced Recess: A McPolin Elementary parent expressed frustration that fourth- and fifth-grade recess has been reduced due to behavioral issues on the playground.  If parents and the school can develop solutions, she wonders if the board can fund them.  Butler cautioned the parents about suggesting aides as solution. She said the district has 16 unfilled aide openings. Caplan encouraged parents to work with the principal to understand the decision and then together create alternative solutions.  Caplan also said the board is updating the district wellness policy and encouraged parents to comment on it. Butler reminded the parents “the board is primarily responsible for the district budget and policy and tries to stay out of school-related decisions. This is the year of “safe and healthy” and the board is willing to look at budget items that will improve student safety.”

Open Enrollment Closed: A parent asked why the board approved closing all schools to open enrollment. “As a board we looked at instructional space, enrollment, and capacity at each school. We also have modular classrooms in many of our schools, and we provide many more programs than required by the state. We also have a mandate from community for small class sizes,” said Caplan. ” We have had a tremendous amount of growth in our population in the past 10 years. This is the first year we haven’t grown. After looking at all the data, we realized we are out of room. So, we made the decision that no new out-of-district students will be allowed to enroll in our schools. It is a decision that will need to be reviewed every year.”

DLI Program: A parent wanted more information on capping enrollment in the dual-immersion programs at certain schools. Currently, every one who wants to get in the DLI program is admitted, Caplan said. “We are seeing a slight decline at Parley’s Park. Some schools have started other programs for students who are not in DLI and those new programs are appealing.” He said if a student applies to a DLI school and the program is full he/she can apply to another school in the district where space is available.

Superintendent Search: A parent wanted an update on the Superintendent search. Caplan said a request for proposal has helped the board retain a consultant who will conduct a nationwide search for Superintendent candidates. A committee of community and staff will do the first round of screening interviews and move three candidates forward for the board to consider. The goal is to have the position filled by this Spring.

Master Planning: The master planning process will kick off this summer and fall. The board hired a consultant this winter to help with pre-planning. The consultant’s recommendation was to wait for a new Superintendent to be in place before the master planning process begins.

Start Times: The board has researched and studied later school start times for years. “There is no good solution,” Caplan said. “With the current traffic patterns we can’t have the high school start later and guarantee that we can get them to school on time. We understand the science and want to make this happen, but we just can’t right now.” A parent who was on the start time committee said a school district in Seattle was able to implement a later start time schedule. She said the board needs to be more creative in its solutions. Butler said she agrees. “Because of traffic patterns we would need 50 minutes to get student to and from school. On the other hand, we have had just as many people oppose the schedule change. It all becomes a ripple effect,” she said. “We want to get through the master planning process and start times and where schools are located will have a direct impact on that plan.”

Bonding: A parent asked when the board is looking at bonding. Andrew said it all depends on what the community wants the district to look like in next 10-15 years. “If the community wants small schools then we will need more money. If they community says they like the way things are, they we don’t have to bond for more money.” Caplan said the board is depending on community input during the master planning process.  Butler said, “Education is incredibly important to this community. If we can show where the money is actually going I have no doubt we will have support for a bond. But we have to explain to the community why we need the buildings and why we need specific programs. And we need all of you to then share that with your neighbors.”

Taxes: A parent wondered if the board worries that taxes are going up in the county and city and if two years from now the community won’t want to support any more tax increases. Caplan said the board is raising taxes this year to cover staff salary increases.

 Interfacing with Park City: A parent asked if the school district and the city interact on a regular basis. Jon Weidenhamer, Economic Development Manager for Park City, who was at the meeting, acts as the liaison with the district. He said the City Council’s goal is to be a full partner with the board. “We work together to understand what our residences want and what the community values.” Caplan said the board has regular meetings with the city, as well as Summit County government officials. “We cannot be successful without knowing the city and county plans,” Caplan said.

DLI Coordinator Needed: Parents requested the board hire a dual-language immersion coordinator. They said Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Kathleen Einhorn has been a strong advocate for DLI and understands the issues related to the program. Caplan said the position is included in the preliminary budget.

The board’s next Information Exchange Meeting is Wednesday, Feb. 14, from 1-3 p.m. at Park City High.