Due to the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Park City Board of Education has alerted the school district staff that there will be no salary increases this year and the on-going contract negotiations with teachers have been suspended.
An email to Park City school district staff was emailed June 9th. The letter, signed by the Superintendent of Schools Jill Gildea and School Board President Andrew Caplan, explains the board’s decision. By forgoing salary raises, they wrote, they will avert many layoffs that would otherwise be necessary.
According to Caplan, compensation for all employees represents 90% of the district’s operating budget. Had the COVID pandemic not changed all of our lives, he says the board was in the process of budgeting 3% pay raises for the staff.
“Our hope,” said Caplan, “was to be able to continue to provide salary increases to all employees as we've been doing every year since I've been on the board, at least.”
This year ended the district’s 3-year contract with teachers. During that time, Caplan says teachers received the largest salary increases on a percentage basis in the history of the district.
“Certainly, we have a board that's pro-teachers, pro-education, pro-employees – we’ve shown that through previous negotiations,” Caplan said. “I think what's changed here is that the state has come in and said OK your budget is going to be cut between 5 and 10%. Now, 10% budget cuts from the state means it's a little over 3 million dollars to us, and that's a significant amount of money.”
And, he added the district could be short millions more than where they thought they would be a few months ago. According to Caplan, the district currently sends $8 million back to the state through tax equalization every year. This year he says that could go up to $10 million which is significant for the district’s $80 million budget. At the same time, he says, the board doesn’t want to eliminate positions or increase class sizes...
“It’s unfortunate I think,” he said. The state has left us little choice. The good news, however, is that the way we're trying to balance the budget is by not eliminating any positions. We’re not looking to [increase] class sizes or eliminate any type of positions. We’re going to leave some positions unfilled until we have evidence the economy is improving and the state may open the purse strings a little bit more. But we’re not cutting wages or not reducing labor force. We’re one of the few businesses in the community has been able to hold steady.”
While they wish they could give the staff a raise to reflect their appreciation for all they’ve done throughout the pandemic, Caplan says the board has to be fiscally responsible and he notes this is not a year where any government or public service employees is getting a raise.
“In an environment where the official unemployment statistics in our county are over 20% and unofficially you know we're looking at a number over 30%, with small businesses really taking it on the chin as well - for us to raise taxes in an environment like that - to provide a salary increase - is just not responsible.”
While the district has a rainy-day fund with enough reserves that would allow them to operate for 2 months, he says it’s really not that much money and they don’t know how long the economic downturn is going to last.
“To give a raise in this type of environment by burning through reserves just isn't responsible,” he said. “We're going to be spending reserves anyways so we're gonna be dipping into that rainy-day fund to save jobs - jobs that would otherwise have been eliminated by the funding cuts from the State. Because we value our employees over everything else, we're going to sacrifice programming, we’re going to sacrifice other things, so that we can keep everyone employed.”
With businesses shut and employees furloughed, there is a lot of economic uncertainty going forward. Given that, Caplan says as soon as it is fiscally responsible to do so, he says the board will make the commitment to the staff that they will see pay increases again.