The governor's budget recommendations have education leaders, teachers and parents worried about the future of Utah's schoolchildren.
"You can only squeeze a turnip so much," said Sandi Barber, who teaches Gifted and Talented classes at Orchard Elementary School in West Valley City.
"The bottom line is: What are we doing to our kids?" Barber said.
State public education budgets will get a 3 percent to 4 percent cut for fiscal year 2010, as recommended by the governor.
In addition, interest from the state's trust land fund for schools is expected to be down $6.5 million for fiscal 2010, which begins next July, due to poor investment returns in the markets.
Trust land funds are individualized for schools' needs. School community councils recommend to the school board regarding how the funds should be spent. At Matheson Junior High in Magna, trust land funds paid for a computer lab aide and a reading program. At Morningside Elementary School in Salt Lake City, that money pays for a children's dance theater.
Furthermore, while the value of the weighted pupil unit generally increases annually, it will not rise from this year's $2,577 for the 2009-2010 school year.
Utah is last in the nation for its per-pupil spending. And next year's flat WPU would amount to another 2.5 percent cut. On top of that, costs such as health benefits and utilities generally go up each year for districts, said Granite District Superintendent Stephen Ronnenkamp.
While the governor has said he wants to "hold education harmless" and not increase class sizes or lay off teachers, Ronnenkamp wonders how realistic that goal is when budget cuts are passed along to the districts.
"When the reality comes and there is no money and you have to make cuts, that's where the rubber hits the road," he said. "Hopefully we can figure out some ways to not touch that classroom."
If class sizes increase, parents will have to step up to the plate and help out, said Annemarie Pilkington, a PTA mom who volunteers in three Granite District schools. "Parents need to come in and help the teacher," she said.
School districts are already preparing for the pinch. Last week Granite School Board voted for a soft hiring freeze and pared back its travel budget. Granite District officials are also saving carry-over money from last school year about $10 million until they know more about the state's economic status.
Districts are following in the footsteps of Davis School District, which announced last month it would delay teacher bonuses and implement a soft hiring freeze and travel reductions.
E-mail: [email protected]