There are twice as many women as men teaching in Utah's public schools. Reverse that figure and do a little subtraction to find the number of women in management positions in the state's 40 districts.

Still, the past decade has seen a growing number of women behind desks in principals' offices and district headquarters as well as the state offices of education and rehabilitation."I think it's the whole attitude in our society. Women are moving into leadership positions," says Darrell White of the Utah School Boards Association. "Education is just catching up with that."

But like their counterparts in other fields, many women must juggle their professional and family lives amid Utah's conservative, predominantly Mormon culture in pursuing their ambitions.

Utah has 18,259 teachers - 67 percent women and 33 percent men. Women make up 85 percent of the elementary teachers, while men outnumber the women 55-to-45 percent in high schools.

But of the 1,222 principals, supervisors and administrators on the district level, 73 percent are male and 27 percent female.

Judy Ann Buffmire, executive director of the State Office of Rehabilitation, is the highest-ranking woman in the public education system.

In the State Office of Education, 10 of the 25 management positions are held by women, the highest by Judy DeWaal, finance director-controller.

Both offices are governed by the State Board of Education, an elected body that will have six men and three women members as of Jan. 1.

Other than Buffmire, most of those administrative positions are middle, not top, management. That coincides with the national trend, said Mary Peterson, the office's sex-equity specialist.

"But I think it would be fair to say that women are not as represented in the higher levels as they are nationally," she said.

Indeed, Utah has but one female district superintendent, Nancy Moore of Park City, whose achievement Peterson calls "a real leap for us," and three associate superintendents.

As Peterson sees it, there are two primary reasons for women's slow upward movement. One belongs to women themselves, the other to Utah's culture.

"It's important that women avail themselves of those opportunities, through networking and legal avenues," Peterson said. "Women have to assert themselves to get themselves where they have to be."

"Society also has to accept that. Society doesn't really see women in administrative positions. There's the stereotype: women are workers, supporters - not leaders."

Indeed, she said, Utah "might have more of a problem than the rest of the nation. It's the isolation, a special culture that says men have their role and women have theirs, and they're complementary, not competitive."

Neither Buffmire nor Nancy Fleming, assistant superintendent in the Davis School District, would discuss the effect the prevailing religion might have on women seeking leadership roles.

"I think that women's voices and men's voices are very important in public education," said Buffmire, 61, who directs a 350-member staff that provides rehabilitation, including education, to 18,000 handicapped and disabled people a year.

"I don't think sex is the issue. It is the empowerment of the children," she said. "We have some wonderfully strong, bright women, who devote many hours . . . and there's a lot of wonderful men in the same situation."

Scott Bean, deputy superintendent of public instruction, said the decade has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of women administrators. He credits "encouragement and advocacy."

Both women and men who choose careers in education face daunting statistics: The state ranks 46th nationally in base salaries, dead last in dollars spent per student and first in the number of children packed into its classrooms.

Those figures have caused an alarming drop in the number of male teachers, because for some, the average salary of $23,686 represents a sole income, Bean said.

Even so, Utah PTA President Pat Hales recalls countless meetings with education-related committees in which she was the only woman, besides a secretary, present.

"Women have so much to give. Women have been the backbone of education since education began," she said. In the meantime, though, women in education make the same choices as women in other professions.