Ever since the tax initiative battles last year, some Utahns have been urging the education system to save money by consolidating its 40 school districts into one district for each of the 29 counties. Voters in Weber County will have that chance in the Nov. 7 election.

On the ballot is a proposal to combine the Weber County and Ogden City school districts. A majority of voters in each district must approve the merger for it to take place.In recent years, the Legislature has taken several steps to make it easier to get consolidation issues on the ballot, including the times when only municipal elections are held.

While the school boards in both districts have agreed to put the question to a public vote, the Weber County Board of Education is staying neutral and Ogden's board is actively opposed to the change.

If the voting goes as expected, citizens will turn thumbs down on the idea - the usual fate of school district consolidation plans. Over the years, such proposals have always been resoundingly defeated.

At first glance, the consolidation idea looks good as a theory, producing savings in administrative costs. But there are knotty problems at every turn. Studies of possible school district mergers produce conflicting results on whether it would save any money. Citizens can take their choice on which experts to believe.

In addition, districts have differing wages scales for teachers, different school schedules and general administrative problems. Even the Utah Taxpayers Association, which supports the Weber-Ogden consolidation, admits there would be "some short-term agony," although the association claims administrative savings of $176,000 a year.

Where there are differences in salary schedules, consolidation undoubtedly would result in raising teacher wages in the lower-paid district, rather than cutting pay and benefits of higher-salaried ones.

Smaller school districts in Utah already can take part in combined state purchasing programs for textbooks and supplies, thus enjoying some advantages of larger districts,

Finally, the school patrons in smaller districts usually have a fierce attraction to their district and refuse to be swallowed up in a larger entity.

A study released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education had a surprising result. It showed that smaller districts tended to be more efficient, had as good or better test scores, were closer to the people, and had more teacher involvement in decision-making. The study said that moves toward consolidation may be "moves in the wrong direction."

The voters in Weber County and Ogden City districts will be the ones to decide, but unless something is radically different than in years past - and it does not seem to be - the consolidation idea probably will not survive election night.