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Beyond the Books: School district says equalization is taking from their kids

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Beyond the Books: School district says equalization is taking from their kids (Photo: KUTV)

If you drive down Main Street in Kamas, you might be surprised at a couple things. First, the community is booming, and second, so are housing prices.

Sitting next to Summit County real estate agent Sam Aplanalp, you’ll get a pretty good snapshot of prices in the area. Alplanalp slows his pickup truck and points across the street.

"The cheapest home in here, right now, is going to start at four and a quarter,” — $425,000.

A few blocks away, Shad Sorensen is wondering when those big housing prices will bite him again. Sorensen is the superintendent of South Summit Schools. He says thanks to the low salary he can offer and the cost of homes in the community, he is regularly losing teachers to other districts where they can get more money and pay less for their mortgage.

There have been times when as many as eight teachers have quit because they couldn’t find affordable housing in Summit County, Sorensen said.

Sorensen says because of the state’s equalization law, he is sending $500,000 a year to less affluent school districts around the state. He says it's money the district could use to pay teachers more, so they could still live in his community.

Equalization has been around for three years. The law takes dollars from wealthy communities like Park City and South Summit, and gives it to less affluent districts like Tintic in Juab County, and Morgan County Schools. Because Park City has property values that are through the roof, the city can collect 10 times more in taxes than the average Utah school district.

Dr. Doug Jacobs, the superintendent of Morgan County Schools, says equalization has been great for his district. He has an annual budget of $12 million, but thanks to equalization, his district has received an extra $2.3 million a year.

“It's enabled us to lower our class sizes, to increase our teachers’ salaries, and it's allowed us to add additional school nurses and additional mental health workers,” Jacobs said.

Beyond the Books looked into the numbers and found that in 2018, the state took $164 million from Park City, Salt Lake City, and South Summit, and given the money to Tintic, Granite, Alpine, and Nebo.

Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, says equalization allows the state to try and give every child in Utah a shot at a great education.

“The whole idea with equalization is trying to create an equal educational opportunity for all children in the state,” Last said.

Last admits the formula is not perfect, and he says the state will continue to tweak the equalization policy in an effort to “get it just right.”

Former State Senator Howard Stephenson, a proponent of equalization, says it “is the most important moral issue in Utah education today.”