SOUTH SALT LAKE — Despite pushback from patrons who argued that the school board hadn't justified raising their taxes, the Granite School District Board of Education on Tuesday night unanimously adopted a new budget for the coming school year that will be supported by a 12 percent increase in local property taxes.
"I don't get this kind of increase," said Roger Mott of Holladay.
"Yes, I agree, teachers need to be paid accordingly. But right now, I have seen no justification whatsoever why the increase," he said.
School board members said they took the step of awarding an 11 percent pay raise to teachers and administrators to better compete for new teachers and to retain educators now on the job.
While many board members acknowledged that the property tax increase would be challenging for some in the district to afford, they maintained the school district needed a "market adjustment" to compete for the best teachers.
"We understand it is a hardship. We also understand we would have classrooms where we would have full-time substitutes. I think we'd all agree, for or against this proposed tax, that it is not an optimal education for any kids to have a long-term sub," said board member Karyn Winder, who represents the West Valley City area.
Michele Jones, a Granite School District math teacher, said the pay raise means she can remain in the school district.
"I can stay at a school that I love that I have grown roots in. I can support my students. I'm so happy I don't have to think about it anymore because I have a paycheck I can support my family on, which is really awesome," Jones said.
Faced with 300 open positions and challenges of attracting new teachers and retaining veterans, the Granite Board of Education voted earlier this year to raise salaries by a total of 11.6 percent for teachers and administrators, which means starting pay for teachers is now about $41,000 a year.
"This literally was a market-directed decision to compensate teachers based on supply and demand," said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.
The pay raise was made possible, in part, when the Utah Legislature approved a 4 percent increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit earlier this year. The WPU is a building block of education funding that is used primarily for compensation and benefits.
Funding the salary hike also required local effort, an average 11.95 percent increase in property taxes on homes and businesses in the school district's boundaries, although for some homeowners and businesses, the increase was closer to 15 percent.
As the school district prepares for the start of the 2017-18 school year, it is fully staffed, Horsley said.
In addition to teacher raises, the school board also moved to capture tax it previously paid into an equalization fund created by state lawmakers in 2008 to assist Jordan School District, which was then undergoing the split that resulted in creation of the Canyons School District. As a consequence, Jordan lost tax base yet retained more than half of the students and was continuing to grow.
Granite was among other school districts in Salt Lake County that levied taxes to pay into the fund. However, in 2016 the Utah Legislature voted to sunset the law that created the equalization fund so Granite will use the money for its own capital needs.