Since 1985, state law has required that Utah's five area vocational centers function under guidelines set by the Utah Board of Education, but resistance to the board's authority by vocational center administrators has resulted in what critics say is continued duplication of programs.

In an era of educational cost-cutting, the centers are providing duplicate programs that high schools, colleges and some universities already have, critics say.But proponents of the vocational centers argue that their programs provide different levels of training in specific areas and build on skills taught in similar courses.

Those findings, which also detail specific duplication of automotive courses, were released Monday by the Utah Foundation. In a study examining the centers, the foundation said, "critics of the duplication idea ask why there is a regional center in Ogden, when the Weber College has extensive vocational facilities.

"They also ask why there is a center in Davis County, since there are excellent vocational facilities in Ogden and Salt Lake City only 30 miles apart. Bridgerland is very close to Utah State University, which also has technical courses.

"Area vocational center opponents argue that the lack of cooperation of vocational training centers with these other institutions has resulted in unnecessary expense."

The report said that, as a result of "regional interests and political manipulation, considerable localized autonomy" exists at the centers. Because most of the centers' funding initially came from local communities and school districts, each center catered to the needs of that particular area, with their own governing boards.

The centers are now largely state-funded, with state and federal appropriations totaling more than $11 million for 1988-89. Still, "it has been difficult to accomplish the transfer of power from local to state authorities. Local boards (which still determine salaries and establish local guidelines) have been very reluctant to eliminate direct contact with the Legislature and submit to the authority of the state Office of Education."

The report also questions the Office of Education's ability to control construction of additional duplicate facilities at public schools. It said some districts have "developed expensive junior high and high school vocational facilities, even when state board officials have made recommendations against such.

"As a result, secondary schools often have facilities that are expensive and, in some cases, cause duplication. Many of these vocational facilities sit unused for many hours each day, as well as during summer vacations."

Though stricter control over area vocational centers has been slow in coming, the report said, the board of education is now trying to "consolidate the lines of authority by restricting the broad area of control that these centers have enjoyed."

A vocational master plan, developed over the past four years by the board of education and the board of regents, is expected to be in place by January 1989. The purpose of the plan is to "clarify objectives, improve planning and increase accountability for vocational education in the state," the report said.