SALT LAKE CITY — While Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, wants to ax the 12th grade to save a buck, state education leaders say keep the senior year but make it better.

Amid discussions over Buttars' bill, school district superintendents will comprise a task force to study how they can strengthen a student's senior year.

The task force will recommend a policy to the State Board of Education and look at "making certain every student makes the best of their high school years," said state Superintendent Larry Shumway.

Buttars' proposed legislation would allow students the option of skipping the 12th grade to save the state money. He has opened up a bill file titled "High School Accelerated Graduation."

In this era of budget cuts, Buttars' proposal would save public education $60 million. The senator emphasizes the program would be optional for high school students and there would be incentives. "We've got to find ways to cut back," he said.

Buttars chided educators and others for not wanting to try new ideas. "It's fear of change," he said.

Shumway says the bill "reflects a concern we have that too many young people are wasting their high school years."

However, Shumway said, students don't need less education. "Being prepared for life after high school requires greater intensity, not less," he said.

State education officials say they were working on strengthening the senior year long before Buttars' proposal came along. While studying math requirements over the last couple years, state officials branched into looking into the 12th grade issue.

Better counseling and changes to graduation requirements are all being examined, Shumway said.

Buttars believes there is great interest in accelerated graduation.

"You can find people who will tell you their kid had the greatest experience in the world in 12th grade," he said. "But you can find hordes who will tell you the 12th grade meant nothing to their kid except playing around."

State Board of Education vice president Dixie Allen disagrees, saying she believes only 10 percent of high school students would opt for the accelerated program if it existed.

"They need to have those full four years to be able to experience things," she said. "I think very few of our students run out of things to do."

Shumway agrees.

"Most kids want to go to school through the 12th grade. They want to graduate with their class. They want to participate in sports, have leadership opportunities, take calculus," he said.

Shumway said two parents recently complained to him that their kids had just wasted their senior year.

"My answer is we need to do better in schools, but shame on you and shame on your kids," Shumway said. "Taxpayers in this state sacrificed to make this opportunity available for kids to be in school."

Shumway is upset at the idea of students "frittering away" school time. "That gift from all of us as citizens is accepted and used," he said. "It's unconscionable to take that and throw it away, especially when resources are so scarce."

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