Public education will be enriched by $142.9 million for the 1991-92 school year if the Legislature approves building blocks proposed by the State Board of Education - an increase of approximately 15 percent over the current budget.

The total basic education budget would be $925.9 million should the Legislature find money to fund all the requests, although budget planners realistically expect trimming from the time the budget is conceived to the time it is finalized.Growth in the system will continue to be the top priority, said Deputy State Superintendent Scott W. Bean. Some 2,100 new students are expected to enroll, at a cost of $13.8 million.

However, several years of exceptionally high growth in Utah's educational system is beginning to decline, with a peak expected in 1993, Bean said. Unforeseen factors such as a revival of Utah's oil industry related to the Persian Gulf crisis could affect the projections, continuing the growth trend in Utah's schools.

A cost-of-living increase of 5.8 percent, which, Bean said, may be conservative, and a 2 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit - the basic per-child state contribution to education - would bring the first building block total to $89.7 million. The WPU increase would provide raises amounting to approximately $950 per teacher, he said, bringing them closer to the Mountain States average.

Even before the school budget gets a start through the appropriations process, there is opposition on the provision to increase teacher salaries.

Non-teacher school employees will fight the proposal to specify a 2 percent increase for teachers, said Kelly Atkinson, a legislator and executive of the Utah School Employees Association. Teachers got a significant raise this fall as a result of legislative action, he said. In some districts, classified personnel received much smaller raises.

The interests of non-teaching personnel cannot be ignored to bring teachers closer to their peers, he said.

Increases in the WPU should be passed through to the various districts, where local officials should decide how to distribute the money among employee groups, Atkinson said.

Financing changes proposed

Included in the second building block are several proposed increases in the 1991-92 budget related to a finance study that is just being completed. The task force that created the study will suggest several changes in school financing formulas that will cost the state some money, as well as redistributing tax income among rich and poor districts.

A $5.7 million rise in spending for special education still would leave the category short of meeting needs, Bean said. The addition would close the gap between demand and actual spending by about a third. The number of handicapped youngsters who qualify for special education has exceeded the funding for a number of years, and school districts have to make up the difference, since federal laws require service for children with special needs.

The budget proposes full funding for vocational education.

Career-ladder increase

In the third building block, the state board is seeking $6.7 million to shore up career-ladder funds. For several years there has been no increase in funding for the teacher-incentive program, although more teachers now are competing for the available money. Even with the increase, the program funding will remain short of the funding proposed when it went into effect, Bean said.

The budget proposal also contains a $5 million increase to upgrade school library/media center services.

Regional centers

Among requests in the fourth building block are several million dollars to promote restructuring and excellence in schools. The budget also proposes two new regional service centers. Several centers now serve largely rural areas of the state, each providing support for a number of school districts. The new centers are proposed for Utah County's three districts and for the northeastern area composed of Davis, Weber, Ogden, Box Elder, Cache and Logan districts.

The preliminary budget also asks for $500,000 to offset losses to school districts when they grant fee waivers as required by law. The issue was hotly debated during the 1990 legislative session and is likely to be revived.

The largest item in the fourth building block is a $12 million request to help school districts manage rising health insurance costs.

"We're anticipating increases of 19 to 20 percent in insurance premiums again this year," Bean said.

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Where the money would go

Among proposed public education budget increases for 1991-92, excerpted from a total of $142.9 million, are:

Inflation $58.3 million

2 percent teacher salary increase 17.6 million

Growth (2,100 new students) 13.8 million

Health-insurance cost increase 12.0 million

Career ladder 6.7 million

Special education 5.7 million

Library/media centers 5.0 million

Two new regional centers 0.3 million