September 8, 2008
Ogden Board Targets Charter Schools
By Amy K. Stewart Deseret News
In a daring act of defiance, the Ogden School Board issued a resolution decrying state law and asking legislators to rescind a requirement that school districts dole out funding for charter schools.
The school board would like to see lawmakers impose a statewide tax system to fund charter schools rather than leaving it on the school districts' shoulders.
"Accept the political responsibility for raising taxes on the citizens of this state rather than passing the burden of such decisions to local school boards," the resolution states.
Ogden District Superintendent Noel Zabriskie, who supports the board's resolution, said, "My hope is lawmakers will find some other way to fund capital needs for the charter schools."
Brian Allen, State Charter School Board president, said he feels the requirements of Senate Bill 2, also known as the omnibus bill, are fair.
Parents of charter school children pay property taxes to school districts, he said.
"I think their children should be able to benefit from that property tax just like other people's kids benefit from it," Allen said. "It's not the school district's money. It belongs to the citizens."
Ogden District, along with some other school districts in Utah, have had to impose small tax increases to make up for the money
districts are now required to give to charter schools. The funding formula is based on the number of students who reside in a district and attend a charter school regardless of where the charter school is located in the state.
Ogden's slice of the pie is $132,000. "That hurts," said Don Belnap, Ogden School Board president.
He said Ogden is not refusing to hand over the funding. Nor is the district asking for an exemption. The money is withheld from the districts through the Utah State Office of Education.
"We will comply with the law," Belnap said. "We just think it's a bad law."
To make up the difference, Ogden taxpayers received a slightly smaller tax reduction than they would have without the requirements of SB2. The difference is $2.48 on a $100,000 home, which the board approved after a truth-in-taxation hearing last month.
Salt Lake School District, which was required to dish out $258,910 for its portion of charter school funding, also implemented a tax increase to get the money. Salt Lake District taxpayers ended up with an increase of 70 cents on a $100,000 home.
"We had to find a way to pay it and we didn't want to cut programs," said Salt Lake District Superintendent McKell Withers.
Granite School District's tax increase amounted to $1.16 on a $100,000 home. The district's lump sum was $478,000 for charter schools.
"It's a significant dollar amount. But what do we do? Raise class sizes or raise taxes?" said Martin Bates, Granite District assistant superintendent.
Ogden District sent a copy of its resolution to every school district and legislator in Utah.
Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, who introduced the initial legislation, said, "The children of the taxpayers in charter schools deserve the same funding and the same education as in the district schools. They are both public schools."
Bigelow's bill failed, was modified and then lumped into SB2, along with about a dozen other school bills, at the end of the 2008 legislative session.
District officials and board members interviewed in Alpine, Provo and Davis school districts said they are examining Ogden's resolution and might discuss it at future board meetings.
Ogden area charter school officials say they aren't taking the Ogden School Board's actions personally. And they defend their right to be funded by public tax dollars.
Kathy Thornburg, principal of the dual immersion charter school Ogden Preparatory Academy, said she understands the district being upset over their loss of revenue.
"I'm sorry they feel that way but the money follows the child," Thornburg said. "We are providing education for kids who are in Ogden."
A total of 84 percent of OPA's enrollment lives in the Ogden District. OPA opened in fall 2003 and now has 572 students.
Jessie Kidd, principal of DaVinci Academy of Science and the Arts, released a written statement Friday regarding Ogden District's resolution.
"Recognizing the complexities of this issue and the challenges all public schools face operating with significant fiscal shortfalls, we support the continuing efforts of (Ogden district) and the Legislature to tackle the issue of fair and responsible funding mechanisms for state school districts and charter schools."
DaVinci opened in fall 2004 and has an enrollment of approximately 325 in grades nine through 12.
Catherine Montgomery, principal of Quest, a technology-based charter school in West Haven, in Weber School District, said she can sympathize with Ogden district "but charter schools are public schools and we need funding also."
Quest, which opened in August, currently doesn't have students from Ogden District.
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