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Four of Utah's 40 school superintendents have called it quits recently, a trend that alarms members of the Utah State Board of Education.

"I think it's a message about the pressure. To lose almost 150 years of experience in six months is a strong message," board member D. Grant Hurst said Friday during the board's monthly meeting."I think it speaks to an issue we as a state board must address when that much leadership is leaving our educational system."

Earlier this week, Granite District Superintendent Loren Burton announced he will retire at the end of the school year. Burton, head of the state's largest school district for the past eight years, has worked in education 32 years.

Longtime Jordan Superintendent Ray Whittenburg will also retire later this year. He has worked in the district 38 years, the past 15 as superintendent of Utah's second largest district.

Ogden Superintendent Jim West has announced he will resign to teach at the University of Utah. The San Juan School District has yet to name a permanent replacement for Gerald Mikesell, now director of school finance and statistics for the Utah State Office of Education.

"The big problem we're looking at now is the fact we've lost superintendents in the two largest districts, both of whom are highly experienced and had the confidence of other superintendents. It's a significant loss in that sense," said Darrell White, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association.

White said the association recognizes the political and job pressures superintendents endure. The association devotes at least four meetings each year to training superintendents how to cope with controversial issues and other job stresses.

"We try to address those issues and help them gain the skills and knowledge to make the job easier. It is a real problem. We get half the number of applicants (for superintendent positions) we used to get. Five or 10 years ago, it was common to get 40 to 50 applicants for almost any superintendency. We're getting half the average now," said White, a former superintendent.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Scott Bean said by the time vacancies in four districts are filled, seven or eight superintendencies statewide could be affected if the heads of smaller districts compete for jobs in larger districts.

Bean noted that job pressures are not confined to the superintendent's office. "A more serious problem is getting and retaining good high school principals. To me, that's more stressful," said Bean.

Board member Neola Brown said the issue stretches across all ranks in education. "Something must be done for the whole picture, not just administrators," she said.