The U.S. education secretary's wall chart does an injustice to teacher salaries in Utah, Gov. Norm Bangerter says.
The chart, released this week in Washington with many state-to-state comparisons on wide-ranging educational data, showed Utah teachers 43rd in the nation in average salaries."The chart does not include career ladder money or the fact that we pay retirement benefits for our teachers," Bangerter said Friday in a Deseret News interview. The career ladder incentive monies add an average $2,000 to each teacher's salary.
The figures also are skewed because of a retirement "window" the state promoted a couple of years ago. Many longtime teachers who were at the top of the pay scale took advantage of the early retirement, and their positions were filled with lower-paid younger teachers, bringing the state average down.
If all these elements were factored into the average, the governor said, Utah would rank about 30, which, though not ideal, is not abysmal.
"The wall chart also does not talk about effort," Bangerter said.
In addition, though Utah pays less per child than any other state, education consumes a larger percentage of total tax revenues and a greater commitment from each taxpayer, he said.
By 1993, Utah's classroom increases will begin to level off and expenditure per child may increase, he said. At the same time, the number of workers in relationship to the number of children will come into better balance, easing the load for the state's taxpayers.
Bangerter said he is following a national trend in becoming more involved in developing educational policy and programs.
"Governors are directly involved in the realities of competition. They see their economies rise and fall. We're at the cutting edge of being able to see if we're making it" with the current education program, he said. "I feel it's my responsibility to make judgments and evaluations about what's happening in education."
Governors have looked at education's failure generally to meet needs and have become more inclined to move to the forefront of planning and pushing for implementation of their educational philosophies.
On occasion, that has put Utah's governor somewhat at odds with the State School Board, which is charged constitutionally and statutorily with general oversight of education in the state.
For instance, two years ago, Bangerter pushed a block grant bill through the Legislature. It was designed to give a group of local districts participating in a pilot program more freedom to make decisions about spending the state money they receive.
After being filtered through the state board, so many strings had been attached that the local districts were reluctant to volunteer for the trial run, he said.
"We didn't want the board to put so many requirements on the program that no one wanted to do it," Bangerter said. "We wanted virtually none so we could test it as a mechanism to compare school progress (with and without the block grants)."
Bangerter feels that the proposals he is making for education - most of them concerned with moving control to the local level and giving parents and students more choice - are consistent with the direction the board is taking. The board has adopted a "Shift in Focus" strategic plan that incorporates many of the same elements, aimed at providing a tailored education for every child.
"The board and I are on the same wavelength, but the board tends to be too worried whether they have enough control. They are finding it hard to let go," he said. "But we all want the same thing."
At the same time, Bangerter said that, given the right piece of legislation, he would put his weight behind a move to change from an elected state board to an appointed one.
"I don't want that interpreted to mean that we don't have good people on the board. But the fact is that most people go to the polls, and when it comes to choosing a state school board member, they vote for someone they don't know."