The Salt Lake City School District has spent the past two years in chaos. This chaos has led to a vote of no confidence in Superintendent John W. Bennion by the Salt Lake Teachers Association. This was not their first attempt to voice concern.
Additionally, a memo was issued by some board members to formally ask the board and the administration to address three important issues:1. Shared Governance: a process and procedure that allows teachers and parents an equal voice with administration in decisions affecting the district and students.
2. The Public Right to Information: apparently two patrons of the SLCSD are currently being denied access to public records about the voted leeway tax, a property tax that they would like verified through documentation, as required by law.
3. The SLCSD Transfer Policy: currently a student can only transfer at the high school level with professional certification of an overwhelming emotional, psychological or physical need. The elementary and junior high schools have an open boundary policy, based on space available as determined by the local principals.
When these concerns are aired, the charge is frequently made that their concerns are grounded in the boundary dispute and, therefore, can somehow be ignored.
The administration has used the closure of South High School and the drawing of boundaries "to accommodate" that closure, as an excuse for all the chaos and lack of communication.
The superintendent has suggested that the South High issue has taken so much of his time that it has left precious little time to "nurture" the teachers and patrons of the SLCSD. Does this mean that he sees his role something like a parent nurturing a child? Shared governance, a concept he says he supports, requires all participants to be on an equal standing.
There still remain, however, the valid concerns of patrons of the SLCSD. Some of these concerns are listed here for your consideration.
1. The district is extremely top-heavy in administration. Money that should be benefitting students is being eaten away by what Secretary of Education William Bennett calls "the Blob."
Granite District has 73,098 students and 34 central administrators, a ratio of one to 2,150; Jordan District, 61,047 students, 41 central administrators, a ratio of one to 1,489; Davis District, 49,413 students, 21 administrators, a ratio of one to 2,353; Salt Lake District, 24,508 students, 43 administrators, a ratio of one to 570.
2. Citizens of the Salt Lake District have been paying since 1974 an additional voted leeway property tax to assure smaller classroom ratios, no textbook fees, and librarians in every school. It takes about $1.2 million to loawer all classrooms in the district by one student. The tax, the highest in the state, brings in $10.4 million a year; therefore, Salt Lake classrooms should be substantially smaller than other districts.
Yet the teacher-student ratio is one to 12 in Granite District; one to 28 in Jordan District; one to 26.8 in Davis; one to 26.3 in Weber, and one to 26.5 in Salt Lake.
3. The salary of Supt. John W. Bennion is $76,500 a year plus perks, i.e., monthly car allowance, yearly annuity, insurance, etc. Bennion is the highest paid district school administrator in the state. The average salary is $50,564. The salary for the governor of Utah is $60,000 a year plus perks.
4. The recent high school boundary changes will add approximately $90,000 or more to busing costs in the district. This is the equivalent of three additional teachers or six aides who could directly benefit students.
5. The bid, as it is currently proposed, for the West High Track Memorandum of Understanding is between $1.3 and $2.5 million. The district is currently committed to spending at least $660,000 for this project, even though there is only $300,000 budgeted.
The costs, for the running tracks, at the other schools (South, Highland, and East) were between $148,977 (1983-84) and $215,275 (1986-87). The additional monies for the West High track will have to be taken from other areas, i.e., educational programs, alternative programs, etc. Is this the right priority for educational monies when some of our schools still need libraries?
6. The district appropriated approximately $37,000 to record the "last year of South High" on video. This was called a "loan," to be paid back if the tapes sell. Would it have been better to have pre-sold tapes in order to assess the interest in this project? Is this the best utilization of educational monies?
7. There are, each year, approximately 2,000-2,500 non-college-bound in the Salt Lake District. Most, if not all, leave school without any job training. Additionally, another 25 percent of the students drop out each year. A proposal for a high-tech school, which would have helped meet their particular needs, along with focus programs suih as math and science academy, fine arts academy, etc., was completely ignored by the board.
8. The administration has not found the time to apply for federal, state, and private grants and programs for which the district is qualified and for which participation has been requested or suggested.
9. The voted leeway tax, which currently brings $10.4 million into the SLCSD coffers, was "passed" in 1974. It appears that the district has put these monies in jeopardy by possibly never having submitted the affidavits or certificates required by law to verify the tax.
The lieutenant governor's office, the city recorder's office, and the county elections office have no record of the registration of said voted leeway special election or tax and no record, to date, of an official count. Therefore, its legality might, someday, be challenged.
At the very least the public should have the opportunity to re-evaluate the tax and what it should be spent for.