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BUILDING CRUNCH UNEASED AT S. SANPETE SCHOOLS

The South Sanpete School District's building crunch continues.

It's an ongoing experience for a small rural district constantly playing catch-up with its housing needs each year with enough additional students to fill three or more class-rooms.As of mid-September, 110 more students have enrolled in the district's six schools - 2,906 all told - than last year. Last year, the increase was 104 more than the 1990 total, which itself was 93 students more than 1989.

And so it has been for more than a decade.

The 110-student increase this year translates into four more teachers and four more classrooms. The teachers are not hard to come by - state operation and maintenance funds pay their way.

The crunch comes in providing the classrooms. Last year, the district spent $1,800,000 for nine classrooms additions at two schools. The district moved into them at midyear.

But even that building program didn't allow much catching up. The district is this year holding classes in 10 mobile classrooms at three schools, and teachers are instructing subjects like reading in hallways at Gunnison Elementary School.

Why not do more building? One reason is because last year's $1.8 million was an add-on to the district's bonded indebtedness of about $1 million. It was approved by the voters on the assurance that it wouldn't require a tax increase.

The problem with the tax route to funding more classrooms is that the South Sanpete School District has the lowest per capita tax base in Utah.

That's why district officers and school board members feel they're between a rock and a hard place. They've developed what one officials calls a "Mother Hubbard syndrome."

They know that opposing growth would be the equivalent to opposing economic development.

For a time, the so-called Robin Hood bill - which would provide state funds under an equilization formula similar to the formula for operation and maintenance - gave them hope for lessening the crunch.

But Robin Hood is in limbo. In its first year, the bill would have provided about half the cost of a new bus, according to Paul Grindstaff, district business administrator.

But in the long run, it would remove much of the pressure and provide for a real, ongoing need, Grindstaff added.