Brian Nicholson, El Observador
Peter Corroon

SALT LAKE CITY — Collaboration was the word of the day at an education summit organized by Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

Corroon, who is the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and his running mate, Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, solicited input from educators, politicians and union leaders last week as a preliminary step to crafting an education platform for their campaign. The primary theme offered by the 60 professionals in attendance was a charge for all stakeholders in the state to work together in creating thoughtful education plans.

Allen has served as a state legislator since 1994 and on the Davis Board of Education from 1978-1990. She said the state needs to make education more of a priority, and all interested parties need to work together.

"What we need is synergy," she said. "Utah needs a long-range plan for education."

Corroon said he and Allen want to reverse the negative impact decreased funding has had on the system.

"Our funding has dropped over the last several years," Corroon said. "And since the 1990s, frankly, I think our education system has slowly been de-funded. ... It's not just because we have a lot of children in the state of Utah, it's also because we're losing funding systematically over the years."

Corroon has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, a master's degree in real estate development and a law degree.

"My success in life has been dependent on my education," he said. "Education is something you can never take away."

As part of the summit, attendees separated into smaller discussion groups to talk about issues such as state funding and higher education.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association, was emphatic in her assertion that the state needs a comprehensive plan for education, rather than temporarily fixing individual problems one by one.

"There are Band-Aids being put on an arterial bleed," she said. "We need to have a long-term, systemic conversation about what we want."

Several individuals used the state's approach to transportation as a model for how education should be handled.

"Ever since I've been on the (House) Transportation Committee, there's been a five-year plan ... so that the general population and people working on roads (have) a general idea of where we're going to go next. That's sustainability," said Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray. "I don't know if we have that in education."

Local administrators, teacher associations, districts and the state Legislature don't talk to each other nearly enough, Allen said. She specifically called on legislators to better understand the issues and be better advocates for education.

"The Legislature can do a lot better with their involvement," she said.

Trudy Henderson, a veteran elementary school teacher in the Davis School District, said she would like to see more of her representatives getting into the schools to see how the decisions they make on the Hill affect children in classrooms.

For the upcoming year, Henderson will have at least 32 children in her classroom. Davis is a fast-growing district, and the board of education voted in June to increase class sizes by an average of one student per class.

"There's hardly room in the classroom for that many desks," she said.

Allen said there's a serious need in the state to move forward, because for the last few years, there has been no progress.

"We are not just on hold. We're going backward," she said.

Allen said she and Corroon will weigh all of the feedback they received at the summit and work it into an education plan to be released later this month.