A proposed tax hike for Salt Lake City homeowners would have them pay about 1 percent more on their property each year.
The Salt Lake City School Board approved the hike for a second round of consideration at a board meeting Tuesday night. The proposed move would plug a $3.6 million shortfall in the district budget for the upcoming school year.
The proposed increase would tax homeowners about $13 more for every $100,000 of home value, starting in November.
"The economy is getting better," said district spokesman Jason Olsen. "But we're still not there yet." A slight boost in state dollars from the 2013 Utah Legislature will help cover teaching costs come August, Olsen said. But, he added, schools are coming up short to pay for workers' retirement.
During the 2013 legislative session, Utah lawmakers raised per-student spending by 2 percent. But officials say the move is not enough to replenish the funding gap from growing retirement costs.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, spoke in favor of the proposed increase Tuesday night. He also criticized lawmakers, saying they haven't set aside enough money for other school funds that are separate from the per-student spending pool.
School boards around the state are considering similar property tax hikes to counter a dearth in local, state, federal and funding.
"Districts are struggling to keep their heads above water," Briscoe said.
Nationally, Utah comes in last place for its per-student spending.
Board member Amanda Thorderson called Utah's last-place standing a "disgrace." It's evidence, she said, that state lawmakers have failed to provide enough money for Utah schools.
"We're arm wrestling Louisiana for that bottom spot and really not putting up a fight," Thorderson said Wednesday. "Everybody asks, 'What are you cutting to make your budgets?' But the question should be, 'Why aren't we being funded enough?' You can only make so many cuts."
Since 2009, the Salt Lake City board has whittled $26 million from its schools budget, Olsen said.
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed tax increase at an Aug. 6 school board meeting. After that, the school board is set to vote on whether to give a formal OK to the increase.