Education leaders from Salt Lake and Tooele counties agreed on their top three concerns Friday during a hearing on the state's education budget.
Most frequently cited were: the need to increase salaries for teachers and other school employees, most of whom have had no raises for three years; the urgency of protecting, if not increasing, the weighted pupil unit, which is the state's support of education, currently set at $1,207 per student; and the need for local districts to get help meeting the high costs of dealing with federal asbestos rules in the schools.Representatives of Tooele, Granite, Salt Lake, Jordan and Murray districts spoke during the hearing in Hillcrest Junior High School, Murray. The hearing was the eighth held around the state this week to obtain public comment on the proposed state education budget.
Employee morale is becoming a serious problem, the leaders said. Teachers and school workers have watched inflation erode their incomes over the past few years and are likely to begin leaving education employment if they don't receive more money, they said.
School inspections and alleviation of asbestos problems are costing huge sums of money that the schools don't have, said Jose Trujillo, assistant superintendent in the Tooele District. The deadline for asbestos-management plans is Oct. 12, though several school districts have asked for extensions allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lynn D. Davidson, vice president of the Granite Board of Education, also told State School Board members conducting the hearing that more effort needs to be made to maintain control of school programs at the local level. Requirements imposed by the Legislature and by the state Office of Education don't always meet local needs, he said.
Superintendent John W. Bennion of Salt Lake District told the state leaders that his district would like more block-grant money to continue a project aimed at transferring educational decisions to the school level. His district is one of six that received block grants (state money without any categorical strings) this year. It is being used in Salt Lake District to pursue site-based management, he said.
Only one tax protester spoke at the meeting. Betty Bates, a candidate for the Legislature, said education must begin looking to funding sources other than property taxes. People on low or fixed incomes are literally being taxed out of their homes, she said. She added that she does not support other tax-limiting measures that will be on the November ballot.