Salt Lake Community College came one step closer to acquiring the sole responsibility of career and technical education in the Salt Lake Valley Wednesday, as lawmakers voted on a substitute merger bill.

HB284 aims to merge the comprehensive community college with Salt Lake-Tooele Applied Technology College, eliminating what the bill's sponsor, Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, calls "duplicative efforts."

Both colleges offer similar programming to the same pool of participants in the same region and a merger would get rid of those similarities, giving students access to what Holdaway and other supporters believe are better resources.

The substitute bill, approved by the House Education Standing Committee Wednesday, offers a protection for current faculty and staff at SLTATC, as well as a guarantee that programming wouldn't change or diminish. It also establishes a safe harbor for the remaining eight Utah College of Applied Technology campuses.

"We see this as the final piece of the puzzle in terms of working on career and technical education in Utah," Holdaway said. Since the Legislature passed legislation creating the UCAT, their campuses in Richfield and in Price have been merged with corresponding community colleges in the regions they served.

"It makes sense in terms of the complete montage of career and technical education," Holdaway said, adding that the community college mission includes contributing to the workforce with career and technical education.

When the bill was initially heard in the committee two weeks ago, many members dissented to the proposal, wanting to hold it after hearing multiple complaints and questions from students and the public. The substituted bill, Holdaway said, considers all parties and is essentially a compromise that comes at a cost saving for the state.

Tom Bingham, SLTATC board of trustees chairman, asked the committee for a year to study other options and come up with a "more reasoned approach."

"If we can't come back with a solution that will benefit all the stakeholders, I will come back and support the merger," he said.

Interim Commissioner Dave Buhler said the issues were studied extensively and the current proposal "is in the best interest of students and the taxpayers of Utah."

Committee members supported the bill but believe there's more to come on the issue of career and technical education. They voted unanimously to pass the bill out favorably.

"If we eliminate the turf, the importance lies in the quality of services the students get as far as career and technical education," Holdaway said. HB284 now goes before the full House for debate.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com