Districts get 4 percent increase: Local schools, Snow College pleased with outcome of session

 

Suzanne Dean

Publisher

4-6-2017

 

SALT LAKE CITY—Local public schools and Snow College did pretty well in the legislative session concluded toward the end of March.

Kent Larsen, superintendent in the South Sanpete School District, says he agrees with the statement by several senators after the 2017-18 state budget was finalized.

“What money they had, they gave to education,” Larsen says.

While the Legislature seemed to be more generous with public than with higher education, Jake Dettinger, vice president for finance and administrative services at Snow College, says, “We came out better than we thought we would going in to the session.”

The benefits to education came in the context of what legislative leaders and the media characterized as an exceptionally congenial session. Larsen agrees with that assessment.

“I don’t remember a year when we (in education) have had as much collaboration with Senate and House members, he said. “It seems they reached out more to us to learn (from us).

Public education, including the South Sanpete and North Sanpete school districts, got a 4-percent increase in the weighted pupil unit (WPU), the basic measure for funding of instruction and school maintenance.

“That was a good increase,” Larsen says.

Going into the session, Larsen notes, the Utah State School Boards Association hoped to get a 2.5 percent increase. But the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, recommended 3 percent.

Before the full Joint Appropriations Committee took up that recommendation, however, the Legislature got a new revenue projection that was $88 million higher than the projection going into the session.

Hillyard took the lead in urging an increase of the WPU to 4 percent.

Even with that infusion, Utah, because of its large families, is still at the bottom of the nation in per pupil funding.

Leaders of a movement called “Our Schools Now” announced they still plan to launch a petition drive to put a measure on the ballot raising income tax just under 9/10ths of 1 percent, with the proceeds to go to education.

That would translate to about $1,000 more per student. “We’ll see,” Larsen says. “That would be really helpful to us.”

Larsen says he is also breathing a sigh of relief because the Legislature appropriated money for four multi-district education service centers, including the Central Utah Education Service Center (CUES) in Richfield.

Before the session, the service centers were funded by state mineral lease money. Those funds have plummeted because of the energy bust in the Uintah Basin and elsewhere. There was a danger, Larsen says, of the service centers going out of business.

“CUES provides a good share of our file servers, our Internet protection, our finance program. It saves the district a ton of money.” He estimated district savings at $100,000 per year.

On the higher education front, Snow College got an appropriation of $826,000, compared to $807,000 the year before.

The projected college budget for 2017-18 is $36.5 million, up from $34.7 million this school year and $33.2 million last year.

Snow College faculty and staff will participate in a 2.5 percent higher education systemwide pay increase. All institutions also got 8 percent more for benefits.

Dettinger says the college could still get another $187,000 from the Utah State Board of Regents for meeting certain performance measures. Most of the measures assess program completion—how many students beginning their educations at Snow graduate or transfer to other institutions in a timely manner. “We’ve been improving on those numbers,” he said.

Snow had hoped to get money based on what higher education administrators call “market demand.” That’s demand for programs that could help with economic development of an area, such as Snow’s new bachelor’s degree in software engineering. “That wasn’t funded,” Dettinger says.

Has Snow recovered from the deep base budget cuts it took in 2009 and 2010 because of the recession? In a word, “No,” the vice president says.

In 2008, state appropriations accounted for 80 percent of the college budget. “For the past five years, we’ve held at about 68 percent,” he said.

“As the budget has grown, more of the burden has been placed on student tuition,” Dettinger said. The Utah State Board of Regents approved another tuition hike last week. (See accompanying story.)