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Parents at east-side Indian Hills Elementary raised $46,000 in a couple of days last week to prevent the school from losing two teachers.

"It's site-based management at its best," said Salt Lake School District officials, parents and Indian Hills Principal Patricia Hunter-Rowse.But others label it as elitism.

For instance, a principal in a west-side school, who also is facing problems in staffing his classes for the 1992-93 school year, sees the situation as a perpetuation of the imbalance between the "haves and the have-nots."

The move to augment tax money with private funds is affecting more than one Salt Lake District school. Ensign Elementary also has solicited donations from neighborhood families to pay a teacher or an aide to supplement the staff provided by available funds, a school resident said.

Last year, Indian Hills, 2496 St. Mary's Dr., had 554 students. The enrollment dropped to 497 this fall, and the lower number meant Indian Hills would have to give up two teachers, said Hunter-Rowse.

"We didn't have any grade that was low (in enrollment), so that we could just lose two teachers," said the principal.

The district staffs its elementary schools on a student/teacher ratio of 25:1 in grades K-3 and 30:1 in grades 4-6. Hunter-Rowse took her concerns to the teachers and then the parents.

The parents decided to raise funds to keep the teachers, thus preventing a schoolwide disruption of classes and an increase in class size.

"The parents and the staff felt this was best for kids. Every decision we make at Indian Hills is what's best for kids," Hunter-Rowse said.

Two hundred parents - as well as six confidential, major donors - contributed to the fund-raiser at Indian Hills, located in an affluent east-side neighborhood. The $46,000 was raised in only a few days.

The principal said the school received permission from the school district to use that amount, coupled with school discretionary funds, to pay the teachers' salaries and benefits.

She also stressed that Indian Hills parents are generous with more than money, volunteering more than 2,500 hours last year. "These are good parents. They are committed in more than just a monetary way."

Superintendent John W. Bennion said the district gives extra financial help to schools in less affluent neighborhoods that have a concentration of at-risk children and possess less fund-raising abilities.

Every one of the district's 27 elementary schools has discretionary funds, but the district weighs the funding so that schools with the larger concentrations of at-risk students get more money, the superintendent said.

"All of the schools have discretionary funds. They use their funds for different things. Some hire aides or use them to pay for part of a teacher. Others buy computers," Bennion said.

But Edison Principal Dale Harding said the money doesn't begin to meet the needs in his westside school, 466 Cheyenne St. He receives an extra $13,000 from Salt Lake District to help educate at-risk children; it isn't enough to "buy" the staff he needs this year.

"I have a fourth-grade teacher with 34 kids in her room. At least 50 percent of them are high, high risk. I've got to find a way to alleviate that or the teacher will quit," he said.

Harding, who also has headed schools in more affluent neighborhoods, grudgingly concedes that "I don't have any trouble with them raising it (additional money) I guess. But it makes an imbalance in education. It's not right, and it's not fair."

At least one Indian Hills parent expressed ambivalence over the action. Carol Lear, who works as legal counsel to the State Office of Education, was one of the 250-plus individuals who contributed to the Indian Hills fund-raiser.

"I know how desparately all of our schools need money. I have a hard time knowing what is the best thing to do. Equities go both ways. The poorer schools get Chapter 1 money, money for latchkey kids and other needs," she said.

School-based fund raising for instruction could be seen as a manifestation of the site-based management philosophy the state is fostering, Lear said. "There is a rationale for local fund-raising."