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It's no secret that the fight over high school boundaries drove a wedge into the Salt Lake Board of Education's unity. Now the board has hired an out-of-state consultant to help board members communicate better with each other.

PractiComm of Grand Rapids, Mich., a consulting firm specializing in conflict management and resolution, is earning $2,500 to assist the seven board members. The firm's Dale Nykamp attended the April 19 board meeting and then interviewed the board members and Superintendent John W. Bennion for two hours each.After the interviews, Nykamp spent a day helping the board with self-evaluation, discussing the dynamics of a board, how to develop understanding and other issues. One outgrowth of the meeting was a brief statement of renewed board cooperation sent to the media.

In the statement, signed jointly by President F. Keith Stepan and Vice President Stephen G. Boyden, who also represent the board's two poles of opinion on the boundary decision and open enrollment, the board pledged to work as a team.

"We recognize the need to develop better communication and understanding among ourselves. Therefore, we are committed to work together to find ways to meet community needs."

Nykamp is expected to return later, although a date has not been set, said staff coordinator Janice Keller. She also said he will also interview a cross sampling of individuals from the central administration, the schools and community to determine their perceptions of what is happening in the district.

Stepan could not be reached for comment. Boyden called the session worthwhile. "I thought it was very valuable. In reality it's the first time we've had to talk about how we feel, except in front of a television camera."

"The problem is that we've had a board that is so deeply divided that it's difficult to get anything else done," he said.

Boyden said the board decided to hire an out-of-state consultant because he would be unbiased. Boyden suggested PractiComm after attending the firm's presentation at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development conference in Boston in March.