From an education standpoint, there are some inconsistencies in Merrill Cook's campaign positions.

The independent gubernatorial candidate says he favors returning control to the people, then lists items that he would, as governor, impose on the system.He says, for instance, that he would save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars by mandating consolidation of schools within county boundaries.

At least a dozen studies over the past year have indicated that such consolidation would, in all likelihood, cost taxpayers more, not less. The studies were conducted primarily by outside agencies. They have been reported to the Legislature's Education Interim Committee, which has not responded officially.

Adminstrative costs, his consistent target for savings, simply wouldn't come close to matching his promises even if he eliminated every administrator in sight.

Perhaps Cook has the answer to the major snags in consolidation - how to equalize pay and tax schedules in the various districts in some of Utah's counties without either increasing tax burdens or angering school personnel.

Perhaps he could convince teachers in Park City, for instance, to part with some of their $4,000 salary advantage so teachers in North Summit could have equal pay. He could achieve even more savings if he could persuade the teachers in both Park City and South Summit districts to settle for the salary schedule being paid in North Summit. I wouldn't place any bets.

In other states where consolidation has been achieved, it has generally been at the price of the higher salary level.

The same tax and salary issues would be compounded in Salt Lake County, which would end up with an unwieldy, overlarge district of more than 170,000 students if consolidation were forced upon the county's four districts.

Residents would be further distanced from school board members and a layered bureaucracy would almost certainly develop to handle the needs of the super district - just as it did in Los Angeles when a unified district was created.

Cook would have to override public desires if he chose to force consolidation, since local voters have consistently and resoundingly turned thumbs down on the idea for years.

In the early part of this century, Utah's school districts underwent far-reaching consolidation based on geography and other factors that haven't changed appreciably since. In the interim, they have molded themselves in the images of their own communities, creating variables that would require sacrifice on someone's part to rectify.

Maybe it's time to put the consolidation issue to rest and turn efforts instead to cooperation and elimination of duplication where possible.

Cook also says he would force school districts to privatize transportation and food services - a notion that has been tried in some districts. Some have been happy with the arrangement. Others have dumped it as impractical.

Granite District, for instance, turned bus repair over to the private sector and found it was not only unsatisfactory from a quality standpoint, but actually cost more.

The district also has tried to work with UTA to provide bus transportation for students in some parts of the county and has not been able to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement.

Granite also is dickering with a major food company to see if it can provide school lunches more economically, and if it can, hooray. But if it can't, it shouldn't be required to do so.

Privatization is a concept that might work well in some parts of the state while in others - primarily rural areas - it would be another administrative nightmare for the districts.

If Cook really supported the concept of local control, he wouldn't be talking at the same time about tying the hands of school districts with these kinds of restrictions.