Is it possible for Utah administrators, teachers, public schools, higher education and 40 different school districts to speak with a single voice to legislators about education needs?
Apparently not. At least the attempt to bring all these diverse sectors together in an Education Coordinating Council has run into serious problems.The Utah School Superintendents Association dropped out of the council this week, citing the need to follow the same action a month ago by the Utah School Boards Association.
As a result, the Coordinating Council can hardly do as much coordinating, although James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, believes the group can continue to be effective. Moss set up the council in 1987, shortly after being named to the state post.
Much of the problem with the Coordinating Council has come from a serious rift between state and local school officials. A share of the unhappiness has been directed at Moss himself, as the top state school official. However, some superintendents criticized any attempt to make disagreements a matter of personalities and individuals.
Ironically, it was Moss who offered the motion for the local superintendents to withdraw, saying it was important for the superintendents to be in harmony with their own school boards.
It's perhaps inevitable that diverse education groups will be divided on such basics as funding, taxes, consolidation, and other problems. There is no single viewpoint on these issues.
But that's no reason to cripple such an entity as the Coordinating Council - as long as it is understood what such a council can accomplish and what its realistic limitations are.
A Coordinating Council cannot and should not seek to force its varied members to submit to a specific position on any education issue. It's not a case of the majority rules and there should be no insistence that this be so. Not every discussion has to be resolved in some way.
Unfortunately, the groups that have dropped out of the council have complained about opinions being stifled.
Within the framework of diversity, there may be issues where all members of a Coordinating Council can agree and can develop a unified legislative position, thus strengthening their position with lawmakers.
But even where this is not possible, there is value in having a Coordinating Council because of avenues of communication it can open between many different groups involved in education at many different levels.
Disagreement about specifics should not mean that Utah education issues cannot be explored in fruitful fashion.