Indications are that Utah's economy will continue to be healthy enough to support restructuring of education in the state, Gov. Norm Bangerter told teachers gathered for the opening of the Utah Education Association convention Thursday.
"I am optimistic that the factors are in place to allow a significant increase (in funding) - that we'll be able to maintain the momentum begun last year," the governor told several hundred teachers in Symphony Hall.The immediate future holds several challenges, he warned. The national economy appears headed toward a recession, and while Utah's financialhealth appears somewhat better than the nation as a whole, a recession would have its impact.
The potential of a successful ballot to remove the sales tax from food or a move to eliminate the education earmark from income taxes also would affect the amount of money available to education and are moves he will resist, Bangerter said.
The governor paid tribute to teachers who have made outstanding contributions to innovative and successful classroom programs. Included were:
- Duane Merrill, physics teacher at Emery High School, whose enthusiasm for science instruction greatly increased the number of students taking courses and ultimately promoted construction of a new science wing at the school.
- Lois Douglas, Ogden elementary school teacher, who sparked a space science project at her school that has involved parents, the community and students in an outstanding simulated space experience.
- Ashel Evans, who spearheaded an effort at Clinton Elementary to raise math scores. With the united support of all the school's teachers, math scores went up significantly.
- Stacy Bess, a teacher at Salt Lake City's homeless shelter. With an average attendance of six weeks among her students, she has tried to meet their needs and bring some stability to their lives.
While these are special cases, the governor said, all of Utah's teachers deserve recognition for doing the best job under some of the most adverse financial conditions of any educational system in the country.
Focusing on the convention theme, "First in the 21st," UEA President Lily Eskelsen told teachers that Utah is involved in a planning process that - with a whole lot of effort - could make the state first in the nation educationally.
"I'm telling you we can make the impossible possible - if we have a plan," Eskelsen said. She described a strategic planning process that has been going on throughout the summer and that will continue to build upon a set of objectives set out by a large diverse planning committee.
Among those objectives is a commitment to making Utah schools an international standard. Teachers will play a significant role in bringing that lofty goal to fruition, she said.
"Site-based decisionmaking must be made available to the schools that want to chart their own course."
While teachers must be held accountable for their work, others involved in education also must do their share, Esklesen said. " . . . student outcomes are the complex results of many factors. Must we not also hold parents responsible in turning off a TV set; the district in allowing us the academic freedom to set our own course; the Legislature in giving us the tools and conditions to best do our work; and the student, whom we so often forget in this accountability equation?"
State leaders often note that economic development is the key to providing more funding for education, she said, but "I have patiently explained to others that Utah public schools will be the source of economic development in this state."
With the goals set, now is the time for work, the UEA president exhorted her membership. "I know full well that these noble objectives could end up being words on paper - that they could end up like a New Year's resolution that's written and tucked away and forgotten. But only if we let it. And we won't let it."