Gov. Norm Bangerter named six school districts Friday that will pilot a block grant program. The districts will receive approximately 10 percent of their funding with no strings attached and can decide how to allocate the money among district programs.
The governor's designation must be ratified by the Legislature, which specified that only five districts would participate in the pilot project. Only six districts applied, and the State Office of Education and Bangerter agreed they should all be allowed to take part in the test. Ban-gerter said he expected his decision will be approved during the upcoming special session of the Legislature.The six districts, representing a good cross-section of urban/rural, rich/poor and large/small districts, include Salt Lake, Cache, Carbon, Park City, Tooele and Weber.
"This is an opportunity for us to give you some flexibility, an opportunity for you to lead out in promoting change and reform," Bangerter told representatives of the six districts. He proposed the block grant program in his State of the State address last winter as a method of returning some educational control to the local level.
Approximately 75 percent of the districts' money is dedicated to the basic program and another 10-15 percent has federal requirements that preclude tinkering, said State Superintendent James R. Moss. If the pilot districts failed to meet federal requirements, they could jeopardize money for all the state's districts.
"This is an important opportunity," he said, "but it also is a challenge. No one knows for sure if it will work." The unallocated money is likely to create pressures on school districts from special interests, he said.
Superintendent Ronald McIntyre of the Park City District hailed the block grant program as a change in philosophy "that is as important as the money." He predicated "a chain reaction" within the participating districts as superintendents and school administrators in turn have more freedom to delegate responsibilities.
Salt Lake District has proposed to take the block grant to the lowest level possible, to experiment with control of some expenditures at the school level.
Moss applauded that approach. "Don't trade one tyranny for another," he warned the superintendents. He also warned the districts that the state office will not settle for a decline in the quality of education related to the freed-up funds.
The first year of the program will be spent in planning. No money will be involved until the 1990-91 school year. The state office will assist the districts in their planning as requested. Each district is to have a proposal by the first of the year for legislative review.