Would you rate the condition of Utah's educational system today as better or worse than four years ago?
Bangerter: It is as good or better. Achievement scores are up and class sizes down. Our biggest challenge is to get people to focus on what's good, not on what's negative. We have a very competent, efficient system and nothing to apologize for.Cook: It's about the same as four years ago, but achievement levels are down from the 1960s and 1970s. There is a decline in a number of factors, including less emphasis on education in our homes because of changes in the family structure.
Wilson: To be fair, it's roughly held its own. But that's due to hard-working teachers and parents, not the governor. We're a mediocre state in a mediocre nation. We ought to be a superb state in a superior nation. I'd give this administration a "C" - average but not a failure.
What is the greatest challenge or challenges facing education?
Bangerter: Handling growth. We have added 45,000 new kids over the past four years and still have gained in measures of progress. That is amazing.
Cook: We must get achievement levels in math, reading and writing back to where they used to be. We probably spend too much time on the frills and need to get back to basics.
Wilson: I think we can have the best schools in the country by the year 2000, but we have to face up to our problems. It means localizing schools, measuring school and teacher performance, creating the condition of competitiveness that will lead to open boundaries in the future. It means collaboration between parents and teachers, with volunteers in the schools.
Should the state raise taxes to cover education - specifically to lower class size and increase teacher salaries?
Bangerter: We simply can't raise taxes. I don't apologize for raising them last year. It was necessary, but we can't do it again. Education is getting an increased percentage of state revenues. No other area of state government has received more money for growth.
Cook: We can't do it that way any more. Our total revenue has to increase, but it will have to happen through economic stimulus. We need a commitment from teachers to allow over the next few years for classes to increase one to 1 1/2 students. Then student numbers will start to decline. With larger classes, they could have higher salaries with no tax increase.
Wilson: We can't. The taxpayers of this state are fed up. To raise taxes would further confirm to them that they are feeding a dragon that eats its own tail. Before we rebuild the revenue base, the public has to know about progress in the schools. I would like to see a blue-ribbon committee that evaluates Utah schools annually and a shared governance board of administrators, teachers and parents at each school.
Do Utah schools have adequate textbooks, supplies and equipment?
Bangerter: It is the responsibility of districts to allocate money where it does the most good. We gave the schools an appropriation for textbooks and supplies, then added another $4 million, plus $3 million that is optional (from the tax surplus). We've not been dilatory. It's a problem in the faster-growing districts, but with hard-to-live-with budgets, we've done very well.
Cook: We have had too little money divided among our 400,000 kids. We're low compared to national figures, spending only 40 percent to 45 percent of the national average. You can't argue with statistics. I would support more spending in this area. It is better spent here than on administration.
Wilson: We cinched up a little with the $4 million from the surplus, but it's not enough. Some schools are using 10-year-old social studies textbooks. At the University of Utah, the Marriott Library is in terrible condition, especially in technological areas such as engineering.
Does the Utah Education Association have too much influence in education?
Bangerter: I don't believe the UEA has too much influence, but it has been a negative influence. The organization needs to recognize our fiscal realities and start looking at what's good in the system. Our classroom performance is the best in the nation. They should acknowledge that. We recognize that teachers have made a great sacrifice, but our teacher compensation is at the top of our financial capability.
Cook: Yes. I have nothing against the UEA and respect its right to do what it does, but we need other groups - parents and taxpayer lobbies - to counterbalance. The governor should serve as a countervailing power. The UEA has not shown enough interest in discussing student achievement, so the governor should.
Wilson: No. Teachers have got to stand up for what they believe in. But I do think the UEA has to become more flexible about reform. It needs to adopt a public position on measuring teacher performance and, once that's in place, merit pay.
How would you handle increasing enrollment, decreasing dollars and low morale in higher education? Does the state have too many schools in the higher education system?
Bangerter: Our higher education budgets are more competitive than in public education. We have excellent institutions with a cadre of excellent people who are unashamedly committed to Utah. I hope our professors and teachers, with all of our current problems, remain committed to Utah. We can't match the dollars in other states, but we can certainly match quality.
Cook: In many instances, our institutions of higher education are doing a great job with their present funding. Some are more efficient than others. I have gone over the statistics and believe if we added several hours to the instructional load of each instructor, we could do it without hurting research. If we saved $14 million to $15 million in administrative costs, we could raise salaries an average 10 percent. It would not be right to shut down any of the present schools.
Wilson: If we can retain our faculty and keep the research base strong, there is opportunity to energize those institutions with grants. But we need to define what our colleges and universities ought to be doing because we so unfocused, so broad, that we're often educating young people who leave the state. All colleges want to do everything, but that's impossible. We've got to decide who does it best and put our dollars there.
Do you favor an elected state board for public education, an appointed board or none at all?
Bangerter: Both elected and appointed boards have merit. I feel whether appointed or elected is not the issue, but rather their role and function is of primary importance. As governor, my preference would naturally be to appoint the board. That's a bias all governors have. I have no quarrel with the system, however. I would like to see the state board continue to make efforts to have closer contacts with local districts. The block grant program ties in with that philosophy, allowing districts to spend money most appropriately in the classroom.
Cook: I am not satisfied with the present arrangement (an elected board) and feel it has been unsatisfactory for awhile. I would like to eliminate duplication among the state and local boards. I don't think we need a state board with veto power over the local boards. We do need a central office for important functions - to see that school money is distributed equally and to handle teacher certification, but do we need a state board that detracts from the prestige of local boards? I would look very closely at the state board.
Wilson: If I had my preference, as governor, I'd rather appoint the board. But honestly why do we waste our time with such issues? It's one of those shuffling-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic issues. Let's forget the small stuff and get on with more important things. We don't have a governance crisis; we have a functional crisis.
Do you favor open enrollment in the public schools?
Bangerter: We have to have both cooperation and choice in education. I think we need to first of all preserve our neighborhood schools and then provide some options, including creation of magnet schools (schools that emphasize a particular aspect of education).
Cook: I would like to see more open enrollment, but we couldn't pay for transportation in a totally open system. It would be good for competition, particularly in our larger districts, if strong magnet programs were developed.
Wilson: It's sensible and logical to bring in open boundaries only after competitiveness is established. That's a long, hard process that involves having shared governance, evaluation of teachers and schools and proper technology. If you do it before that time, there is a rush to certain schools.
If the tax initiatives pass, where in education would you favor budget cuts?
Bangerter: The initiatives simply are not an option. They must be defeated. If they do pass, cuts in education will occur where the education community designates. We would have to budget programs as we always have, based on priorities. We would make joint decisions based on those options and it is impossible to determine now where cuts would come. If the property tax initiative passes, public education will get a disproportionate cut. We would have to compensate by giving public education more of the total state income.
Cook: We would have to eliminate duplication at state and local levels, including eliminating the state board. We could save a lot by attrition - by having a hiring freeze and not replacing people who leave the system. We could save $15 million in administration and operating support for the schools. Privatization of transportation and school lunches could save $15 million. Adding one to 11/2 students to each class could save $45 million to $50 million. I feel very strongly that education would be more progressive with the tax reductions.
Wilson: I would not, at this point, want to speculate. It would be a year of intense work and public hearings to see what the people of this state, if they approve the initiatives, would want to eliminate. But there would be a law of subtraction. I'm in favor of eliminating any frills outside of the classroom. All dollars must roll toward the classroom.
Would the education community regard you as a friend or foe?
Bangerter: If they rate me as other than a friend, they rate me wrong. In 14 years in the Legislature and for four as governor, no one has put more on the line to ensure the success of education than Norm Bangerter. We've never had a governor who took more political risk for education than I have. I've gone to the mat to make sure we have opportunities for our kids and I haven't given up yet.
Cook: I am committed to education. I had a good education in Utah myself and work with my kids as they are educated. It is hard to be viewed as being insensitive to education. I want to have responsible cuts and good solid programs. I have been unfairly labeled by the establishment and teachers. But many are coming to agree with me.
Wilson: Friend. I taught at North Summit Elementary for one year, Skyline High for seven years, a private school in Switzerland for one year and the University of Utah for three years. I think I have as broad an experience in education as anyone running for governor. Education is the most important service the state delivers.