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Training centers seek to maintain status quo

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If lawmakers are like a biblical Solomon, listening to the dispute between public and higher education over who should oversee technical training in Utah, then the state's applied technology centers say they are the baby under the knife.

The superintendents and directors of those schools pleaded with lawmakers Monday not to be severed.

"Retain the mission for ATCs to serve both high school students and adults," said Michael Bouwhuis, the superintendent of the Davis Applied Technology Center. "Don't split the baby down the middle."

Members of the Applied Technology Education Task Force have been deliberating all summer about the future oversight and funding of ATCs.

Currently, the State Office of Education offers programs in high schools and oversees five ATCs and two additional service regions for teenagers and adults.

The Utah Board of Regents is ultimately responsible for applied technology courses, certificate and degree programs offered through community colleges — again, to both high school students and adults.

But both governing bodies have told lawmakers that the dual management is resulting in confusion and inefficiency. The task force's charge is to decide whether one camp should take control of applied technology education or if a third board should be created to oversee the system.

Monday was the first time lawmakers heard directly from ATCs. Most firmly advocated staying under the direction of the State Board of Education.

"If you must wield the Solomon-istic sword, however you decide to make the cut, please keep in mind the very large population of secondary and high school students we serve," said Richard Maughan, superintendent of the Bridgerland ATC.

While a few of the more rural centers complained of budget problems and enrollment shortfalls, Maughan, Bouwhuis and Ogden-Weber ATC Superintendent Brent Wallis said they really don't see a need to change the status quo.

"The sole purpose of an ATC is to provide a skilled work force, and I think we do a fabulous job," said Wallis. He claimed an excellent working relationship with Weber State University as well as private industry leaders that look to ATCs for large-group, contract employee training.

"We have a very focused mission, and it's very market-driven. We have competency-based instruction, strong business and industry partnerships, and open enrollment," Wallis said.

Lawmakers assured the centers' representatives they won't try to fix what isn't broken.

The task force meets again Sept. 11 to hear brief final reports from public and higher education officials as well as updated data from a 1995 legislative performance audit of applied technology education programs.

E-MAIL: mtitze@desnews.com