Utah's education community could learn a lesson from the state's hospital community.

In 1986, Proposition One appeared on ballots. Its objective was to change Utah's Constitution to specifically exempt non-profit hospitals from taxation - a status they had historically enjoyed, but which was being challenged.The issue was complicated and the non-profit hospitals decided on a low-profile approach to campaigning for the issue, although millions of dollars were at stake.

Little was said about hospital taxation and its likely effects as the summer turned into fall and polling time approached.

At the Nth hour, Proposition One opponents went into high gear and staged a media blitz that made an emotional appeal. Though not entirely accurate, it was highly effective.

When hospital administrators woke the morning after the election, they found the proposition had been defeated by less than 1 percent.

The defeat left them scratching their heads and developing that marvelous quality - hindsight - that suggested they had dropped the ball.

Now some hospitals are plodding through expensive and time-consuming appeals that may in the end fail, leaving them to pay the taxes demanded by the counties in which they are located.

The effect in all likelihood will be to increase the health care costs for many Utahns.

The point I'm trying to make is not that non-profit hospitals should be or should not be taxed. I'm suggesting educators could learn that failing to talk early and emphatically - about the possible ill effects of proposed state tax reform could be disastrous.

The words fall nicely on the ear - lower taxes, more money to spend. Utah wage-earners could easily be bewitched by the siren song. The proponents are certainly not reticent about promoting their viewpoints.

Education absorbs the lion's share of Utah taxes. Education has the most to lose if the tax reform proposals pass.

The state's voters need to understand that lower taxes could require payment of another kind - a decrease in the quality of education for youngsters.

Utah is already up against statistics that make education a formidable undertaking. The most children and the fewest dollars are a combination that has educators hustling to provide a quality education. Severe cuts in education funds could swamp the entire system.

Teachers who are unhappy with 30 students per classroom would be overwhelmed with even more children.

The likelihood that their salaries would increase would be miniscule. There would be even less to attract quality people into the profession.

The tax protesters call for trimming the fat in all areas of government, including education. That's a good idea. But over the past few years, Utah has been in a fat-trimming mode. When you quit trimming fat and get into the meat, blood flows.

The message should be going out now to parents, patrons and everyone who stands to lose if education loses - i.e: all of us.

If educators take the same low-profile position the hospitals did, hesitating because of the complexity of the issue, they could wake up on the day after election to find the electorate responded to the loudest voices in the community.

Education advocates simply have to talk louder.