LEHI — State Rep. David Cox, R-Lehi, and primary election challenger John Schmeltzer agree on at least one thing: Public schools are the biggest issue for voters in rapidly growing north Utah County this year.

Cox, 46, is seeking re-election to a second term in the Utah House. But first he needs to get past Schmeltzer, a 43-year-old quality-assurance manager at a Pleasant Grove software company. The Republican nominee will be decided in a June 27 primary election.

Both Cox, a fifth-grade teacher in Alpine School District, and Schmeltzer are talking about public education, especially funding. Schmeltzer thinks schools might be wasting money meant for textbooks and supplies, while Cox believes school-trust land monies should be diverted to new school construction.

Whoever wins the primary will face three challengers in the November general election: Democratic candidate Wayne Carlton, a former Lehi city councilman; Independent American candidate Sheila E. Heindel; and Libertarian candidate Dwight Steffner. All hope to represent House district 56, which includes Lehi, American Fork north of Main Street, Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain, Cedar Fort and Fairfield.

After 19 years as a fifth-grade teacher at Lehi Elementary — where he taught in the same room he himself had sat as a fifth-grader — Cox is moving to Sego Lily Elementary. He will also teach fifth-graders there, but his classroom will be a portable trailer. He says that illustrates the need throughout Utah for more money to build schools.

"My school will probably have twice as many students as it was built to handle," said Cox, who holds a master's degree in public school administration from Brigham Young University.

Cox believes the effects of growth on public education should be spread evenly throughout the state. The best way to accomplish that, he says, is to use school-trust land funds to build new schools rather than giving it in small amounts to schools as discretionary money.

Schmeltzer, meanwhile, would like to audit school expenditures for textbooks and supplies. His campaign literature says that education funding "is rampant with abuse as much as it is steeped with legitimate needs."

Schmeltzer accuses Cox of favoring too strongly positions of the Utah Education Association while ignoring the desires of his constituents. Schmeltzer says, he wouldn't be running at all if voters hadn't complained Cox wasn't listening to them. As legislative district chairman, Schmeltzer oversees Republican business in Cox's district.

"Whether or not I win is not the most important thing," Schmeltzer said. "If Rep. Cox would respond to the issues, that's the most important thing."

Cox says he does respond to constituents' concerns. The incumbent acknowledges that his legislative voting record is favorable to education but says his votes are enlightened because he has a profound understanding of education issues.

"I feel like I bring a balanced view," Cox said. "I've always been a conservative Republican, but after 20 years in education and politics, I've begun to see there's more than one way of looking at an issue."

Before the April 29 Utah County Republican convention, Cox worried that Schmeltzer's post as legislative district chairman gave him an unfair influence with GOP delegates. He filed a complaint with the party hierarchy, but no action was taken against Schmeltzer. Cox says he will introduce a measure at next year's GOP convention proposing that legislative district chairs be forced to step down before running.

Both candidates now say they have put the issue behind them, and are looking toward garnering votes in the primary.

E-MAIL: carter@desnews.com