The warnings are ominous - kindergarten may be cut; career ladder programs will surely be destroyed; hundreds of employees will be laid off and, eventually, the money Utahns save themselves through tax cuts will cost their children a good education.But supporters of the three tax initiatives that will be on the November ballot maintain that all the warnings coming from teachers' union leaders, school board members and PTA presidents are simply scare tactics intended to prevent voters from forcing schools to be more efficient.
People on both sides of the issue have arsenals of "facts" and figures that prove Utah cannot survive with the tax cuts or without them, depending their point of view. Nevertheless, representatives from all three Utah County school districts say they are sure that if the tax cuts pass, there will be reductions in district services that local residents will find difficult to live with.
In Alpine, officials estimate that if all three initiatives are approved, the district will lose $9 million to $11 million of its $90 million annual budget. Although an official list has not been finalized, School Board President Jan Lewis said changes could include cutting kindergarten to two days a week; eliminating the career ladder program; increasing fees for elementary music and busing; and cutting about 10 percent of the work force (about 150 people).
The district will compile a final list of likely cuts during the next several weeks. It will also hold several hearings during which parents can discuss what should be eliminated first.
"I think the very first thing that will end up going in Alpine is career ladder. That will save $3 million," said Lewis. "It'll be terribly devastating if we wipe that career ladder out. We have gotten better work from our teachers because of the program. We've had better evaluations and the best teachers are getting more bonus money. That will be a tremendous loss."
Parents may think the kindergarten program would be a bigger loss. Lewis said chances are good the program would be cut back to two days a week.
"Kindergarten is not a mandated program and that's why it keeps coming up. It's not a scare tactic," she said. "It's my gut feeling that if all those initiatives pass and if those projections are accurate, then yes, I really believe kindergarten will be cut."
Administrators in the Nebo School District aren't sure of much yet, except that if the initiatives pass, the district will lose $4.5 million. Errol Smith, business administrator, said it's possible Nebo will have to eliminate one of every seven employees or a total of 220. That would increase class sizes by an average of five students per class. "We don't know exactly what will be cut, because we don't know what rules we're going to be playing by," Smith said. "If they're going to take away 15 percent of the budget, (the Legislature's) going to have to change the laws we deliver service by. The Legislature may say, `Hey, you will eliminate kindergarten.' We may not have choice, so I just hesitate to say this is what we'll do."
Nebo has developed a list of possible cuts, though, including vocational programs, busing, kindergarten and career ladders.
"We're in the process of really trying to tell people what the initiatives are about," Smith said. "We think it will be devastating. Our PTA is planning a door-to-door campaign, and we'll give information packets to the staff."
Lewis said Alpine plans an information campaign at the community level.
"I don't think enough people understand the initiatives. If they pass, I think the public will quickly find this was not an advantage to them," she said. "If the money isn't there for books and supplies, the cost has to be passed on to the consumer. They'll really have to pay out of their own pockets what they don't pay as a community."
Provo Superintendent James Bergera said his district will likely lose $4.3 million or 11.5 percent of its budget if all three initiatives are approved.
"We already are very tight, and when you consider that we will already transfer a large part of our capital improvement money to maintenance and operation, it's a very strained budget," Bergera said. "The initiatives just go way too deep. Our district is already a very efficient operation."
Provo has a task force working on compiling a list of programs that would be cut. (See related story.)
Scare tactics. That's what Mills Crenshaw, spokesman for the Tax Limitation Coalition, calls that sort of talk.
"It's a campaign of lies and of deceit and of distortion. Their concern is not money. Their concern is loss of control," he said. "Efficiency calls for accomplishing a job with the least amount of money."
Alpine's projection that it will lose as much as $11 million is "absolutely ridiculous," Crenshaw said.
"They have developed uniform figures statewide that are false. If the average district is going to be impacted $2 million, then $11 million is ridiculous," he said. "Nobody is bothering to check their numbers."
Why would school board members, who seemingly have nothing to gain financially if the initiatives are defeated, deliberately distort figures? Crenshaw said many board members across the state had the Utah Education Association behind them at election time, and they don't want to support something the UEA is strongly against.
"The board members statewide are those who have been supported by the UEA. They have a virtual stranglehold on the government in the state of Utah," Crenshaw said. "A disproportionate number of board members (are controlled by the UEA); enough to control the school boards."
The three initiatives, which were placed on the ballot as a result of a petition drive by Crenshaw's group, would limit property taxes, roll back tax increases approved by the 1987 Legislature and provide tax credits to the parents of children attending private schools.
(box) Projected losses if initiatives pass
Alpine: $9 million to $11 million.
Provo: $4.3 million.
Nebo: $4.5 million.
Possible cuts for all districts include career ladder, busing, kindergarten and teacher and staff layoffs.