Many Utah children have been back in the classroom for one or two weeks, amd in year-round schools some returned as long ago as July. But the majority ended the summer vacation by going back to school this week - the more traditional return after Labor Day.
What they found was familiar. Despite several years of so-called education reform, the same problems persist. Classes are crowded and many parents already are discovering that fees and extra charges have made the cost of "free" public education more expensive.Schools are strapped for finances, as usual, and the levying of fees is one way to pay for some supplies and services. Unfortunately, the extra charges may price some students right out of certain activities.
Teachers are more apt to be more satisfied with salaries than they were in last year's turbulent start of school. Most received their best salary raises in years, although contract talks are still unresolved in Jordan, Alpine and Park City districts.
The other major target of complaints by both teachers and parents - classroom size - is not any better than last year. Although the explosive growth in Utah's school population is slowing and is expected to peak in 1993, there are 6,000 more pupils in the classroom this year than there were last year.
The 2-mill levy the Legislature allowed school districts to assess as a method of relieving crowded classrooms has not had much significant impact, especially in larger districts. Growth simply overwhelmed the available money, which was not enough to make a big difference to start with.
As a result, Utah still leads the nation in average classroom size. And horror stories of 40 and 50 youngsters in a class are not rare.
Despite this pressure, the trend to year-round schools has slowed, with one school in Granite District and one in Jordan switching to the year-round schedule. A new high school - Hunter High - opened in western Salt Lake Valley.
Education reform is still a hot topic at the top of the educational system and there are pockets of change, but at the bottom of the system the students are not seeing much effect.
Despite the persistence of old problems - and Utah teachers saying they have some of the lowest morale in the nation - there is also a sense of renewal as the school year begins again. That's the way it should be since education remains the hope and promise of the future.