The final week of legislative committee meetings held many surprises for public and higher education.

The State Office of Education was caught off-guard this week when the Joint Executive Appropriations Committee approved language to transfer business services offered through two Applied Technology Centers to community colleges as part of its $1.98 billion budget approval.And higher education officials are holding out hope a few more dollars will come their way after the joint appropriations committee granted them a 1.8 percent increase to their base budget over last year.

The prospects of alterations, however, are slim as the 1998 Legislature draws to a close. The legislative session ends at midnight Wednesday.

Public education officials oppose transferring custom-fit programs to Salt Lake Community College and Utah Valley State College. The courses range from teaching workers about new software to regulations on sexual harassment. Custom-fit programs train workers to take jobs in particular businesses.

The programs, which have been funded through public education coffers, also had been offered through the Wasatch Front South and Mountainland ATC service regions.

"It is unfortunate that Salt Lake Community College feels it must be the `sole provider' of custom-fit services in the region," said Robert Brems, state associate superintendent of applied technology, in a prepared statement.

"Precluding the (service regions) from providing custom-fit services also reduces opportunities for the public education system to interface with businesses and employers at a time when those partnerships should be dramatically increased."

But community colleges have offered custom fit for the past decade. SLCC President Frank Budd says the transfer will halt confusion and duplication resulting from two closely related custom-fit entities.

"It is one of the main resources the college has to work with and meet the training demands of some businesses and industry," Budd said. "Public ed has not offered custom fit prior to this year. I don't know how they would lose."

But the State Office of Education, which oversees nine applied technology service regions governed by boards of superintendents, college presidents and business representatives, is concerned with the transfer.

SLCC has 14 custom-fit contracts, many with large companies such as Boeing and the Larry H. Miller Group, according to a quarterly financial report dated Feb. 25. Wasatch Front South had 38 contracts, many of which were with small businesses.

In higher education matters, officials are looking for a few more dollars beyond their small base budget increase.

The Joint Executive Appropriations Committee approved a $657 million higher education budget, largely the recommendations of the higher education budget subcommittee.

The legislative leaders also added back some $3.5 million in "hot spot" funding, including $1.4 million for enrollment growth, $800,000 for technology initiatives and $480,000 for operation and maintenance of a new biology research building at the University of Utah.

"It's a start in the right direction. We're still hoping for more," said Norm Tarbox, assistant commissioner for finance and facilities.

The variable of the higher education budget is whether the proposed 3.5 percent state employee pay raise will affect the 2.7 percent tuition increase approved by the Utah State Board of Regents last fall.

A 2.7 percent increase would help fund a 3.2 percent pay raise, Tarbox said.

Last year, the regents were forced to increase a previously agreed upon tuition rate when they determined the increase would not fund the pay raise approved by lawmakers and no additional state help was forthcoming.

On Friday, Executive Appropriations had yet to finalize the capital facilities budget, which may include a handful of higher education facilities.

In other legislative action:

- The Senate killed SB13, which would have created a legal mechanism for petitioners to divide school districts serving more than 50,000 students. Sponsor Sen. Millie Peterson, D-West Valley, has sought passage of the bill three years running.

- The Senate Education Committee has forwarded a bill to the full Senate that directs the Utah Office of Education to study the possibility of widespread commercial advertising in public schools and report back to the Legislature. SB203 was placed on the consent calendar in the Senate.

- A bill that would allow for eight pilot charter schools as part of the governor's Schools for the 21st Century initiative passed both houses. The bill was amended to match dollar amounts recommended by the Executive Appropriations Committee: $800,000 for Schools for the 21st Century ($700,000 less than originally sought) and $500,000 for charter schools.

- Executive Appropriations approved $5 million for class-size reduction - $8.6 million less than bill sponsor Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, requested - and $3.5 million for teacher supplies. It also approved a 3.5 percent increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit, or basic education funding formula. With the increase, each unit would be valued at $1,850.