The Grand Canyon wasn't unbuilt in a day, if you'll allow me a slightly warped literary device.

The soil that once filled that enormous chasm was wafted away by wind and water, grain by grain, over thousands of years.And the process continues, though if we stood on the brink and stared throughout a lifetime, the change would never be apparent.

Utah education leaders fear just such a subtle erosion of the quality that has been painstakingly built into the state's school system.

The announcement in Jordan District recently of more than $4 million in budget cuts created a ripple in the community, and will be extremely personally painful for a relative handful of teachers, media personnel and classified employees whose jobs will disappear next year.

However, as Board President Maurine Jensen noted, the overall effects of the cutbacks will not be apparent on the surface.

Jordan's children will go to school. The district's teachers will absorb the additional student load in their classrooms and go on. The business of education will proceed as usual.

Observers may assume that the budget cuts had little effect and conclude that there was $4 million-plus in the Jordan budget to spare.

The little grains of quality being washed downstream and blown away on the winds of economic austerity may not be missed until there are enough of them to create a large gully.

The child who goes to a school media center with a particular need and leaves without that need being met. The "different" student who gets lost in the shuffle of an overlarge class. The one who teeters on a borderline between "average" and the need for special resource help.

Little grains of difference.

For many years, America's education system met average needs, whether by design or by practice. Recognition of those at the ends of the spectrum - the ones too bright to be challenged by average programs, and those who need special help to meet their potential - was slow in coming.

Obviously, meeting special needs requires more money. When push comes to shove, such "extras" get shoved right on out the door.

That puts everything back in the "average" part of the spectrum, and we're right back where we had been for years.

Utah's economic reality calls for frugality, without doubt. Education has to tighten its belt like everyone else. If there is fat, it must be trimmed.

But if there are any options at all (a tax surplus springs to mind) state leaders need to look at those options.

It will be a sad day for Utahns if they wake up a few years down the road to realize the quality they have desired and striven for over the past few decades is gone with the wind.