If Utah is serious about reducing the number of students who leave school before earning a diploma, more money must be made available to develop programs for students known to be at risk, district superintendents said Monday.

Superintendent James West, Ogden, said districts "can't touch" the problem with the amount of money now being spent.The issue was discussed during the regular meeting of the State Society of Superintendents in the Red Lion.

James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, told the local superintendents that $500,000 more is being requested from the Legislature for the upcoming school year. That would double the amount now being spent on programs for at-risk students.

Moss also warned the education leaders, however, that the governor's office, the Legislature and the public in general are not in a tax-increasing mood. Education can only hope to get a share of revenue increases based on improvements in the economy, he said.

The State Board of Education has tentatively approved a budget asking for $80 million more to finance education programs, but realistic projections indicate only a 10th of that may be possible, he said.

The local superintendents also indicated a preference that any money targeted for at-risk programs be divided among the districts based on student numbers.

The $500,000 in the current budget was divided in half, with one half going to the districts on an apportioned basis, the second being made available to some districts that made proposals for special programs designed to keep children in school. The majority of the superintendents opposed this method of dividing the at-risk money, since it gives some districts more to work with than others.

Superintendent Clark Puffer of Cache District, however, said it is a preferable method because it allows some districts to develop and test projects that can then be duplicated if they are found to be effective. His district has such a project under way.

Jordan District Superintendent Ray Whittenburg asked if there were any plans to make information available to all the districts from those that are working on at-risk programs, and Moss said there were.

A committee of the superintendents was to study the issue further and make a recommendation for the Legislature.

The state has developed a master plan for identifying and helping students who appear likely not to complete the required 13 years of public school.