Utah Dems fire at GOP lawmakers in defense of teachers, SLC School District

Published: Friday, Aug. 30 2013 4:17 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A significant portion of the agenda at last week's meeting of the Education Task Force was given to Salt Lake City School Board member Michael Clara and his oft-repeated criticisms of his school board colleagues.

Clara accused the Salt Lake City School District of neglecting the needs of west-side schools and failing to address the graduation rate of at-risk and minority students.

His comments drew concern from the Republican members of the task force, who suggested that inquiries and investigations be made into the operation of the school district and the training that school board members receive from the Utah School Boards Association.

But on Friday, Utah's Democratic Party fired back at GOP lawmakers, accusing them of scapegoating teachers for the state's achievement gap despite little support or leadership from the Legislature.

"Our schools are not failing our students. Our Republican leaders are failing our schools," Matt Lyon, the Utah Democratic Party's executive vice president, said in a prepared statement. "It is clear that what occurred at the Education Task Force meeting was a thinly veiled attempt to shift the conversation away from the real issues behind Utah’s frightening achievement gap — a lack of commitment by this state’s leaders to Utah students and to working constructively toward fixing these problems.”

Lyon continued by repeating a request made in January by the Utah Democratic Party that the state's leaders work together to establish long-term leadership and solutions for public education. He said the state has five- and 10-year plans for curbs and gutters, roads and transportation, but has no concrete plan for the educational system.

"Utah Democrats called for these things in January and have been sounding the alarm on education for over a decade," he said. "We need to stop the grandstanding and the scapegoating of our under-supported teachers and start actually solving the problem."

During the task force meeting, Clara received encouragement from Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, who represented Salt Lake City's east side as a member of the City Council. He told Clara to continue pressing for change, saying the west side, particularly Rose Park, is routinely neglected by policymakers.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, cautioned her colleagues to not reach any conclusions before the task force had a chance to hear from other members of Salt Lake's school board.

"I accept what you're saying as your opinion, but I don't know if I accept it all as fact," Moss told Clara.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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