Going into the 1997 Legislature, State Superintendent Scott Bean was concerned education issues would be ignored as lawmakers focused on interstate reconstruction.
He now worries that the massive road project will come at the expense of the state's schoolchildren. On Thursday, the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Committee endorsed cutting back staff and travel in the State Office of Education."We're taking the children in our education system and they're being sacrificed on the altar of I-15. I think it's wrong to do that," he said.
Bean called on lawmakers to raise taxes before cutting into schools and services that assist schools. "I don't think the children of the state should have to pay for that."
The state office is a resource to the state's 40 school districts - most of which do not have curriculum specialists, Bean said. Further, the office provides staff training statewide, particularly in rural Utah. In the past decade, most education initiatives have come from the state office, he said.
On a split vote, lawmakers agreed to eliminate six full-time positions in the office and reduce travel. The analyst recommended using the Internet to reduce travel needs.
The analyst also suggested that the office use mineral-lease funds to pay the salary of the state's school trust-land specialist. "If the increase in mineral-lease revenue is not sufficient to fund this position, then the State Board of Education will have to meet their needs with current staffing."
Overall, legislative fiscal analysts have proposed to spend about $35 million less on public education than what Gov. Mike Leavitt has recommended. The legislative budget does provide money for growth, however.
Two days into the appropriations hearings, Bean said he was "really discouraged, and I'm not easily discouraged. I have a natural optimism. I believe our children can do more and more if we help them."