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PC CAPS is Teaching our Children the Wrong Lesson

During April 2012 there was a heated debate over whether to start the PC CAPS program, an initiative by the Park City School system to provide real-world experience to high school students through hands on projects. During 2012 there was also a budget crisis within the school system. They needed to slash $4.7 million from the budget and raise taxes to keep afloat. The decision was made to start the PC CAPS program and spend $150,000 over the next two years to put the program into place.

Two years later the annual budget for the program sits at $450,000 — six times what was promised. Oh, and there is another budget crisis causing taxes to be raised again. During this year’s budget discussion, School Superintendent Dr Ember Conley asked whether canceling the PC CAPS program would solve the $3 million shortfall and the response was that it wouldn’t make a dent in the problem. Yet, that’s not the point.

The point is that school leaders made announcements to the public stating that PC CAPS will cost the tax payers no more than $75,000 per year to get up and running. Three months later they hire a PC CAPS Coordinator that makes $125,000 per year in total compensation. At the same time in 2012 the Park Record reported “[PCSD Student Services Director Tom] VanGorder said initially they don’t plan on building a PC CAPS building, but will ask the participating businesses to provide workspace at each location for the students.”  Two years later they need $5 million for a new building to house the PC CAPS program. It begs the question whether there is anyone who can accurately forecast expenses in the school district or whether the public is just told what they want to hear. Worse yet, no one seems to even apologize for the inaccuracy. It leaves the public saying “can we trust what is said going forward?”.

It is true that the PC CAPS has received grants of $262,550 (according to their website) to offset some of the expense. However, this likely offsets about a 30% of the expenses through the end of this fiscal year — and that doesn’t count the $5 million toward the new building that wasn’t going to be needed.

The PC CAPS program generally seems like a good idea.  Many kids are getting an experience that would be tough to get elsewhere.   The problem is that the program was sold with false promises.  If Tom VanGorder stood up in 2012 and said this program is going to cost about $500,000 per year and we are going to spend $5 million on a building to house the students, does anyone think CAPS would have been approved?  Probably not… but at least it would have been honest.  Perhaps it’s just another case of “say and do whatever is needed to get the outcome you want.”  I’m not sure that’s a lesson our school system wants to be teaching our kids.

More good news… if you had already bought a PCMR pass. Looks like you’ll be taken care of

Many of our friends who had bought PCMR passes were worried that they would be in trouble with the Vail buyout of PCMR.  According to the buyout press release, “All PCMR passes for the 2014-2015 ski season will continue to be honored and can be exchanged or upgraded for a season pass that will also be valid at Canyons. ”

That’s more good news.

See the whole press release here.

By Abstaining, School Board Member Tania Knauer Exemplifies What Is Wrong With Many Park City Leaders

The Park City School Board recently voted to increase property taxes by over $3 million dollars to cover upcoming shortfalls. That vote was 4-0 with one member abstaining. One member abstaining? Was that one member absent? Did she miss part of the discussion? Did she need to leave during the vote to use the bathroom? No. When School Board president Moe Hickey announced that it was a unanimous decision, Ms. Knauer spoke up and noted that she had actually abstained from voting.

The Park Record reports that during previous comments during the meeting Knauer stated, “My concern is the budget is not sustainable. I feel uncomfortable voting (in favor of the increase).” Then why abstain? Either you think taxes should be increased or not. Put another way, most people wouldn’t be ambivalent about school funding vs. tax increases. As an elected official you should have an opinion and that is why voters elected you.

This feels more like a stunt out of Washington where an elected official worries that a “vote against education” will be used against them. Am I watching House of Cards or is this is the Park City School Board? Perhaps the next election is more important than convictions.  There seems to be a fear of going against the herd.

This concern goes beyond Ms. Knauer. When Park Rag’s predecessor, Summit Counts, was being formed the initial idea was to show which local representative voted for or against each idea. What we found was that almost all votes were unanimous. Very infrequently did an opposing vote ever get placed. This says to Park City citizens that it doesn’t really matter who you vote for because it will all end up the same. There is a strong lack of diversity in how our officials vote, but that is a topic for another day.

I don’t know Ms. Knauer personally but judging from her resume she seems very competent and dedicated to education and our children.  In this case, though, Ms. Knauer contributed to the problem. Instead of voting with her convictions, or at least her comments, she took the easy way out. A 4-1 vote would have said something. Yet we got fear, and a 4-0 vote with one abstaining, and it’s just more of the same…

… and really disappointing.

Death of Crane Driver Shows Why Projects Like Discovery Core Aren’t Smart

Earlier this year, the Summit County Council refused to grant special exceptions to the Discovery Core Project, a housing development behind Weilenmann School. The project required special exceptions because its roads were too steep and setbacks weren’t big enough. Things about it just weren’t safe.

The intelligence of this decision was highlighted by a tragic accident just down the road in Summit Park on September 3rd. The Park Record reported that the driver of a crane “was driving a crane near the intersection of Upper Evergreen Drive and Paradise Road when it went off a steep embankment into a ravine and rolled over onto its side.” Details are still unknown as the accident is under investigation.

Yet, what we know is that the south side of I-80 from Summit Park through Pinebrook can be some of the most challenging driving both because the roads are steep and turns can be tight. The County has rules in place to not only protect the people who live in these areas but the people that construct these places.

While there is always a battle in Summit County between property owners’ right to build and those who want development stopped, the issue of safety goes beyond that. Often a property owner feels like they have the right to do whatever they want with property. That right doesn’t extend to issues that could be a safety concern for residents, visitors, and those working on construction.

The County Council did the right thing when they denied exceptions that could have led to unsafe conditions and an accident like this only amplifies the wisdom of that decision.

Can the Park City School District Be Saved From Itself (and Us)?

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  –-Walt Kelly

On Thursday night the Park City School Board voted to increase taxes in order to cover a shortfall and raise $3+ million per year. The reasons communicated by various board members include the need for more teachers due to increased enrollment, enrollment by out of district students, agreeing to too much in teacher salary/benefits during the previous negotiations, and healthcare costs that have risen more than could be expected.

Two days before, citizens spoke to the School Board during a truth and taxation meeting.  Former School Board member Vern Christensen put together a forecasting model that suggested that given the best case the school district would no longer be able to raise taxes (due to state limits) in 6 years.  His worst case had us hitting that limit in 3 years. He stated that the costs were out of line with a reality where compensation rises, pensions rise, insurance costs rise but we don’t have the money to pay for it.  Another citizen said that in 2012 taxes were raised and that was supposed to last 5 years.  She asked why 2 years later we were here again.  Snyderville Basin Planing Commissioner Chuck Klingenstein said there were no programs in place to monitor this situation, no forecasted budgets, no implementation plans, and no assessments of programs.  He also lamented that he felt like he put in a lot of research time during the proposed 2012 tax increase but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Unfortunately deaf ears seem to persist.  The vote was 4-0 in favor of the tax increase (with one member abstaining). Yet, during the discussion leading up to the vote, one could tell that the board seems to realize there is a problem.  School Board President Moe Hickey commented, “There is no significant cut unless we cut programs or change delivery mechanisms.”  Another member commented they they previously had tried to increase class size to help solve budget problems, “and the people went nuts”.  It was also stated that they realize program like Early Release put pressure on the system.   It’s almost like the $17 trillion national U.S. debt.  Most people realize its an issue, but it’s just too big to solve. So they let it ride and hope for the best.

The School Board did discuss some “solutions” like encouraging the Utah state legislature to give schools more money, talking about lowering future growth of teacher salaries and benefits, and mentioning that retirement funding requirements may not continue to rise every year. Unfortunately this mix of candy cane wishes and gingerbread hugs isn’t likely to come to fruition.

The truth is that we as a community are nearing our limit to fund the school system we currently have.  Even if we are willing to pay increasingly more taxes for the same outcome we have today, shortly that ability to raise taxes is going to be slammed down on us by state law.  At that point, it is likely drastic cuts will take place.  As has been repeated by School Board members, there are really only two ways to address the issue long-term, cut programs and reduce overall money spent on compensation.  That is what will happen, one way or another, eventually.

Given the current situation, we as citizens can’t demand the problem be fixed but then “go nuts” about class sizes.  We can’t say we need to figure out how to handle rising salaries but then write 100 letters to the Park Record complaining that if we don’t have the best paid teachers in the state our children will suffer.  We can’t say we need to cut programs but then protest when the CAPS program is shelved or early release is cut back.

If we don’t begin to realize that cutbacks are needed, taxes will continue to rise, until they can’t.  At that point the only option will be cuts in programs and cuts in teachers.  Meanwhile, the average citizen’s property taxes will have been raised for education — and if you are one of the unlucky ones your home valuation will have risen from 2010-recession lows — it will be a triple whammy.  You’ll have paid more taxes to schools along the way.  Then your home value increases and you pay even more.  Then the teachers and programs are swept away regardless, leaving higher taxes but worse education than you started with.

Unfortunately there will be pain.  We can’t get anywhere from here without a little discomfort.  The question is whether we as citizens are willing to give our elected officials the “cover” they need to do what must be done now, or will we continue to demand that which is unsustainable?  If we choose the latter path we need to be prepared for an eventual eruption that will likely be very devastating to our community.

Note: if you’d like to hear audio from the meeting where they vote to raise taxes, the Park City School district has it online.  It’s great that they offer this, by the way.  Unfortunately, this time it’s poor quality, so we have tried to increase the sound on the copy below. You’ll likely have to increase your volume to hear it.


Do You Want A Drive Through Coffee Stand in the Walmart Parking Lot?

Silver King Coffee is requesting that the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission allow them to build a coffee stand in the Walmart parking lot. They are presenting a plan on Tuesday to the Commission in the hopes that they will allow them to add the building to the parking lot in front Great Harvest Bread.

Because the current zoning doesn’t allow for this type of operation, they are trying to use something called a Specially Planned Area (SPA) to accomplish the goal. The SPA has typically been used to build areas like the Tanger Outlet Mall and the expansion at Utah Olympic Park.

If you have opinion either way, you should let the Planning Commission know. I’m not exactly sure how you should do that via the County’s new website. However, I suppose you could email the County Planner that is working on this:


Should UTA Issues Kill The Mountain Accord? Maybe Dave Ure is on to something.

Summit County Council Member David Ure raised concerns during a recent County Council meeting regarding an audit of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and how that relates to supporting the Mountain Accord. The Mountain Accord is a massive project that hopes to redefine how our mountains are accessed, and includes partners such as UTA, local governments, Ski Utah, and the US Forest Service.

Essentially the issue is that Utah has mountains, lots of people that want to use them, and that is causing problems. The Mountain Accord is the latest in a long line of attempts to “make long-term decisions regarding the future of the central Wasatch Mountains.” That sounds really broad — and is. What it really boils down to is figuring out a way for people to access ski resorts, hiking, biking, etc. more efficiently. Intertwined with that are water issues, pollution, and a myriad of other issues related to our natural resources.

This brings us back to David Ure, who is one of the most interesting members of the Summit County Council. Ure was previously a Utah state legislator and is the council member that represents the views of eastern Summit County. He is a Cattle farmer from Kamas and thinks like one. That’s not a derogatory statement in the least. In fact, it’s a glowing compliment. He doesn’t seem to get wrapped up in politics; he just calls it as he sees it and in this case he has done us all a favor.

Most of us probably hadn’t paid attention to a recent audit of UTA — but maybe we should have. UTA are the folks that handle transportation in Utah. They run busses, light rail, and a train that runs along the Wasatch Front. Many Utahns depend on UTA every day. However, the recent audit does not paint them in very favorable light. The August 2014 audit highlights:

  • They pay their executives much more than you’d expect
  • They don’t report all their data to a state transparency website
  • Rail upkeep costs are significant and underfunded
  • They may need to cut service in order to meet financial constraints
  • Future transit projects depend on new funding sources

Wow.  So basically if you were researching which charity to give to, you would avoid this one.  Too many administrative expenses,  not transparent, doesn’t budget correctly, underfunds major upcoming expenses, and a needs to cut services.  Using a phrase I could envision Ure saying, “We are hitching our wagon to a broken down pony.” You see, if cars are banned from little Cottonwood Canyon, who do you think is going to run that bus service?  If light rail runs up Parley’s Canyon to Park City, who is going to run that train?  If we are going to connect all the resorts, who is going to do that?  UTA.

If we look back to the 2012 audit, it is just as bad:

  • Paying interest on debt will consume a great portion of is future sales tax revenue
  • Revenue projections are optimistic and expense projections may be understated
  • Financial limitations may affect future service levels
  • Cost-effectiveness has decreased

So, it’s obviously not a new problem.

Yet, the Mountain Accord proceeds down the path with this partner — a partner that seems fundamentally flawed.  If there is an outcome, it is likely to be heavily dependent on UTA.  With that comes a highly inefficient organization that puts itself over the needs of Summit County.  Will it be able to meet its obligations?  Are their current suggestions based on trying to find a way to pay for past obligations and not what is best for us? Given financial constraints, will a solution for solving our problem (traffic on 224 and 248) be addressed at all?  How much more will it cost taxpayers than it should, due to excessive salaries?

The problem with fighting Mountain Accord is that someone has been very smart in assembling this endeavor.  They enlisted local politicians, businesses, and organizations from the get go. Imagine that you are a local politician that has been meeting for months and spent countless hours on this issue.  In addition you have convinced your city or county to spend thousands of dollars in support of the initiative.   You aren’t going to want to invalidate that time by calling a spade a spade. You may overlook some of the issues with UTA.  You may rationalize and justify that the overall good of the project outweighs other issues like compensation.  You may be willing to risk the entire effort on whether UTA will financially be able to deliver.   You’ll try to find a way to make it work.   And that just may be a disservice to the people you represent.

We all want to ensure that our mountains, and really our community’s lifeblood, is maintained for our children.  Yet, perhaps a more tactical solution, dedicated to Summit County, makes sense. David Ure stood up and said “PAY ATTENTION” and for that we thank him.  He truly seems to have our best interest at heart.

Hopefully our other leaders will at least take a second look and decide whether the Mountain Accord, as it is progressing today, is right for the people they represent. Our hope is that they truly examine not only how good it sounds but truly what is likely to be delivered. Will that be good for Summit County? If not, we hope they decide to go in another direction.

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t include this video from another town’s fight: