The Utah Partnership for Educational and Economical Development has survived some rough waters and now hopes for a bit of smooth sailing as it goes about its mission of serving as a catalyst for improving Utah's economy by improving education.
"I'm enthused about the program and confident the partnership will play an important role in the future," said Donald Holbrook, chairman of the organization's board of trustees.The immediate order of business is to find a replacement for James R. Moss, who served as the first executive director. His death on Dec. 14, 1990, in a car accident gave the trustees "some tough shoes to fill," Holbrook said.
They are hoping to find someone who will fill the executive position on a voluntary basis - a retired business executive, or one that a local company is willing to "loan" the program for a year or two.
"We want someone we can pay as little as possible," said Holbrook.
That was the original plan for the administrative post, he said. However, when Moss, former state superintendent of public instruction, became embroiled in a controversy with the State Board of Education and appeared ready to leave the school post, the partnership hired him. His salary and benefits were approximately $90,000.
The partnership no longer plans to ask public and higher education to add $50,000 to their budgets to help underwrite the costs of administering the program, he said. However, the state's Department of Economic Development will be asked to "help the partnership along," he said.
The prospect of changing the executive leadership also has been an opportunity to reassess the organization's aims and priorities, Holbrook said.
The partnership evolved out of the work of five committees that studied education/economic development issues in depth and developed more than 150 recommendations for actions to bolster both halves of the equation.
In recent months, partnership leaders have been combing through the recommendations and have found that many of them - about 100 - are already in process, Holbrook said. The partnership now will move ahead to prioritize the other objectives and begin work to bring them to fruition.
"We'll be working on those things that already have some momentum," Holbrook said.
Targeted for this legislative session is a proposal to provide tax credits for some businesses that are deemed to hold promise for improving the state's economic well-being. The partnership has used the services of some volunteer lawyers to develop a proposed bill, he said, as a sample of the types of voluntary interactions being fostered among all of the elements of the business and education communities.
Holbrook said he hopes the partnership is now beyond a fuss that was raised last fall about funding for the Utah Technology Initiative. The initiative, a project to infuse technology into Utah schools, was one of the partnership's suggestions for upgrading education. But it was just one of 150 proposals, not the whole substance of the partnership's involvement, he said.
When a flap arose as to how much money the business community would contribute to the technology initiative, there were some perceptions that the partnership was responsible for raising $10 million for the project.
The partnership rejected that position, although it has members on the initiative board and had offered "some help with fund-raising. Although we certainly want the initiative to succeed, we are not responsible for its success."
The 1991 Legislature is expected to rethink the private contribution to the technology initiative, as it has become apparent that $10 million was an over-ambitious figure.
"It would be wise to become more realistic about what the private sector can raise," Holbrook said.
Despite the problems the partnership has encountered, Holbrook has high hopes that the business/education hybrid will ultimately contribute significantly to Utah's economic future.
"We have a very unique arrangement. It's the first time in the nation that higher education, public education and economic development interests have united at all levels to seek common goals.
"Five years from now, I hope we're still in existence and that we can look back at a long list of things we have accomplished."