Sparked by the controversial high school boundary decision, races in the Salt Lake School District have generated the most interest in a school board race in years. Thirteen candidates running in the primary election for the four open seats. Two recently withdrew from the race.
Among the issues candidates face are high school boundaries and student transfers among schools, after the closing this year of South High School. Also, three statewide tax-cutting initiatives will be on the Nov. 8 ballot: rolling back the 1987 tax increase, restoring the sales, income, gasoline and cigarette taxes to 1986 levels; capping property taxes on residential property at 0.75 percent of fair market value and on other property at 1 percent; and giving a state income-tax credit to parents whose children attend private schools.PRECINCT 1
Four challengers are trying to unseat incumbent F. Keith Stepan, the board's current president. They are Tonya Covington, Michael Nemelka, Jann Harden-Warner and Tab Lynn Uno.
Precinct 1 roughly covers Salt Lake City north of South Temple and west of Third West.
F. Keith Stepan, a self-employed architect, has been on the school board for six years and its president the past two years. He has been a member of numerous educational committees, including the 1980 High School Boundary Committee, and is a former member of the Salt Lake City Planning and Zoning Commission.
He opposes the tax limitation measures, seeing them as the biggest problem facing the district. He said that if the initiatives cause Utahns to deny educational funds, then "we turn our backs on our students, ourselves and the future of our state. The myth of a 6 percent cut in the fat is a leap off a cliff."
A westside resident for 26 years, he supports the board's equity decision, saying it is vital to offer educational opportunity to every student. He opposes open enrollment now because of "the improvement that is needed educationally at West High School."
Tonya Convington, a homemaker, said she holds no degrees in education but has gained tremendous insight from working with students and teachers as a volunteer for the past five years.
She favors the tax initiatives, saying "more money is not the solution to our problems. By limitation, we force ourselves to look for new directives in saving money."
Covington says the district's biggest problem is a lack of communication among the board, administration and parents.
Calling the board's equity decision that created three comparable high schools and changed high school boundaries "a noble gesture," she nevertheless opposes it because all students aren't college-bound and they need an educational structure to provide them vital skills.
On open enrollment, she said that if the necessary education structure is provided at each school, then the majority's needs are addressed and open enrollment can be viewed individually.
Michael Nemelka, a high school teacher, graduated from West High School and Weber State College. He said he is specially qualified to be on the school board because he views school conditions daily.
The teacher said he is "not too impressed with the tax limitation measures."
In his literature, he says that any trimming must start at the top - the administrative level.
He believes low teacher morale is the biggest problem facing the Salt Lake School District. Teachers are on the front lines and better able to diagnose problems and offer valid solutions, he said. In addition, he thinks classrooms, similar to movie theaters and elevators, need occupancy limits.
He did not agree with the equity decision on high school boundaries and opposes open enrollment, but he did not elaborate on either answer.
Jann Harden-Warner, a tutor for college students and a restaurant employee, has taught the Great Books course at Rose Park Elementary School, worked at various levels of the PTA and is a member of the Rose Park Community Council.
A "yes" vote on the tax-limitation measures would drastically reduce current and future education services. "We cannot afford to lose the quality programs we now have," Harden-Warner said.
She believes poor academic results are the biggest problem facing the school district. She puts the blame on large classes, lack of parent-teacher involvement and lack of efficient and effective programs.
Although she agrees with the equity decision, she thinks the new high school boundaries are inadequate and the board needs to accommodate the wishes of the majority in future decisions.
Harden-Warner believes in "open enrollment under special circumstances," saying transfers need to be decided by individual schools on the basis of student-family needs.
Tab Lynn Uno, a community development specialist with West Valley City, served on the school board from 1979 to 1981. He has a master's degree from the University of Utah in public administration and has served on several educational committees. He was a Literacy Action Center tutor.
He said, based on school district information, the tax limitation measures will hurt quality education. He criticizes the school board for being slow to inform the public in a meaningful way about their effect.
He thinks the district's biggest problem is "diminishing community support for public education."
He generally backs the high school equity decision, although it left the district divided and did not address the real educational issues for low-income and minority students.
Open enrollment is a goal worth pursuing, but its adoption must wait until each high school has quality, comparable programs, he said.
Two candidates are running in Precinct 3 to succeed Colleen Minson, who decided not to seek re-election. They are Glenda Gaudig and Steven L. Olsen. Cynthia Martin was in the race until early September, when she withdrew for personal reasons.
Precinct 3 roughly covers south of South Temple and west of State Street.
Glenda Gaudig, a homemaker and self-proclaimed community activist, has been a member of the community councils of several westside schools and was a board member of the Salt Lake Association of Community Councils. She is also a reading tutor and on the advisory board of Esperanza para Manana, a group home for Hispanic youths.
She opposes the tax limitation measures, saying proponents "really haven't given much thought to the effect this would have on education."
The biggest problem affecting the city schools is that some schools are perceived as inferior to others, she said.
She worked for the equity decision. "We weren't overly thrilled with the high school our children will attend, but we are anxious and willing to make the new boundaries work."
Enrollment should be closed for at least two years to allow the new boundaries to work, Gaudig said.
Steven L. Olsen is manager of collections and research at the Museum of Church History and Art of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has served on several educational committees, including the district High School Closure Committee and High School Boundary Committee.
He doesn't favor the arbitrary tax-limitation measures but prefers public servants who demonstrate greater financial responsibility.
Olsen believes parents, districtwide, should be productively involved in the education of their children.
The equity decision that brought new boundaries was a "necessary and fair first step" in implementing the school board's goal of comprehensive and comparable high schools, Olsen said.
Once the boundary changes are clearly understood, open enrollment may deserve serious consideration, if it enhances the principle of comparable and comprehensive schools, he said.
Newcomers Michael Walton and Orson West Jr. are challenging Stephen G. Boyden, board vice president, in Precinct 5.
Precinct 5, which has irregular boundaries, roughly covers the south-central part of the city, from Eighth to 21st South between State Street and Foothill Boulevard.
Michael T. Walton, president of Walton Marine and a third-year law student at the University of Utah, has a doctor's degree in history. He is past chairman of the Friends of the U. Library board and a member of the Utah Coalition on Tort Reform.
He said he is opposed to the tax-limitation measures.
Walton believes the biggest problems facing the school district are "creating schools of similar high quality throughout the city and maintaining quality school if the tax initiatives pass."
He said he agrees with the school board's equity decision and new high school boundaries.
On open enrollment, he said, "It would create schools of widely varying quality and would favor students whose parents could transport them to the preferred schools."
Orson B. West Jr., also an attorney, is a graduate of South High who was active in Save Our School, a group formed to oppose South's closure. He has worked with youths in both church organizations and the Boy Scouts.
The tax-limitation measures would be disastrous to the state's educational system but would hit particularly hard in the Salt Lake School District, West said.
He believes the biggest problem facing the district is "the funding of current educational programs and finding more money for teacher salaries."
Although he thinks the decision to close South "was wrong and short-sighted," he nevertheless believes the equity decision and new high school boundaries are fair and reasonable.
Open enrollment is an option, but it shouldn't be considered for three to four years until stability and trust can be restored to the district, West said.
Stephen G. Boyden, an attorney, said that if the tax-limitation measures pass, "our educational system would be severely impaired and we would be unable to properly educate our children."
He believes healing the division wrought by the high school boundary decision and restoring public confidence in public education are the biggest problems in the district. He also said teachers deserve the respect and support of the community, school board and administration. He voted against radical changes in the high school boundaries. He favors three strong, viable high schools, but believes it's impossible to maintain an exactly equal number of students, class offerings, student achievement and extracurricular activities among the schools.
On open enrollment, he said quality programs should be developed at each school and students should be allowed to attend the school of their choice.
Incumbent Carolyn Kump decided not to seek re-election, leaving a wide-open race in Precinct 7. Contenders are David O. Donohoo, Alan Mecham and C. Guy Walker. A fourth candidate, Bruce A. Barrett, is on the ballot, but he moved from the precinct during the summer.
Precinct 7 roughly covers areas south of 21st South to the city limits and east of Fifth East.
David O. Donohoo is a teacher at Hillside Intermediate School, specializing in Spanish, English and Utah history. He holds a master's degree from the University of Utah. He has worked in professional organizations, with youth groups and was president of the Utah Foreign Language Association.
Although he believes the school board should be frugal and accountable with tax money, Donohoo thinks the "tax initiatives will devastate the school system. The effect in Salt Lake District will be a loss of $14.2 million to $16 million in revenue."
He labeled communications as the biggest problem facing the school district. "Problems are never solved when issues are agreed upon in secret and then announced after the fact."
Donohoo said he doesn't fully agree with the equity decision, but now that the decision has been made, the district needs to go forward. He believes open enrollment has merit but the district needs to proceed cautiously so it doesn't disrupt equity decision.
Alan Mecham, an attorney and a certified public accountant, has worked with a law firm on business and tax matters. He has worked with youth groups and was a member of the governing board of Tsunami-YMCA swim team and the Westminster College Legal Committee.
Mecham believes "less rigid and less damaging approaches should be used to try and prevent excessive taxation" than the tax-limitation measures.
The biggest problem facing the school district is the "negative community perception of our school district generated by the constant turmoil over the boundary changes and by the perceived lack of leadership by the current administration."
He said equity, to him, means fairness, and "I think the board's boundary decision was unfair to far too many people. South High students were treated particularly unfairly." He thinks they should have been allowed to attend the school of their choice.
On open enrollment, Mecham said the board's current enrollment policy is too rigid.
C. Guy Walker, a sales manager for a chemical company, has been active in PTA for seven years and has worked with youth groups. He was a member of the district's Boundary Committee.
Considering the district would have to make $14 million to $25 million in cuts if the tax-limitation measures pass, it is questionable how the district could do this, Walker said. "Cost-saving measures could be and should be pursued, but cuts of this magnitude could be devastating to education."
The district's biggest problem is the continuing problems surrounding the boundary decision and the board's inability to work together to provide three comprehensive high schools, Walker said.
The candidate agreed with the equity decision. On open enrollment, he said it "is one of the major factors that led to the boundary problems the district has been facing for over four years. Open enrollment would probably lead to the closure of a second high school."