The State Board of Education lent its support Friday to school districts that do not want to consolidate but prefer to pursue cost-effective cooperative efforts.

The board approved recommendations from its Administration and Finance Committee to support only voluntary consolidation and to oppose any legislative efforts to force districts to unite.A third recommendation, that only consolidation proposals that had gone to a vote of the people in the districts considering union be supported by the board, was voted down. Utah law already provides for elections in districts considering such consolidation, board members said.

The vote to oppose forced consolidations was 5-4. Some board members believed it would be unwise to take a firm position that might in the future put the board in opposition to the Legislature.

"We should allow our elected representatives in the Legislature to determine what's in the best interests of the state," said Margaret Nelson. If the Legislature determines that a forced consolidation is wise for financial or other reasons, the state board should support that position in preference regardless of local opinion, she said.

Neola Brown, representing the opposition viewpoint, said the Legislature has the authority to act regardless of the board's position, but the board had been asked for many years to take a position on consolidation. "This action is long overdue," she said.

The committee heard several districts report that consolidation would probably cost them money rather than saving any, before making its recommendations.