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Utah Legislature: School budget cut ideas come fast and furious

SALT LAKE CITY — Still debating ideas for the hefty task of recommending public education's budget cuts, lawmakers decided Monday to delay making a decision until later this week.

The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee is assigned to figure out how to slice 5 percent, or $102 million, from the education budget for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1. The committee has already approved a state-mandated 4 percent cut totaling $85 million for the current school year.

"It's an involved process," said Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, the subcommittee co-chairwoman.

Monday, legislators shared their ideas for cuts, and the public didn't hold back on lawmakers' proposals.

Committee members' suggestions include reducing exams for already-over-tested kids; finding more money in the state coffers for education instead of cutting; increasing class sizes; using education's state stored-away funds; using school buildings year round and having teachers stop taking summers off.

Committee members said they want financial numbers from the State Office of Education on the ideas for a meeting Wednesday.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, is still serious about eliminating half of high school busing and promoting an accelerated graduation program that would allow some students to skip higher grades and head straight to college.

"It's time we start thinking differently," he said.

Giving students the chance to leapfrog higher grades would save $60 million, while reducing busing could save $7.5 million, Buttars said.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said after her daughter graduated a year early and took a $1,000 scholarship, many of her friends wished they would have done the same.

"Those who don't want to be there their senior year shouldn't be there," she said.

Regarding busing, Ruzicka says the school bus goes by her home empty many times. However, if her older children are late to school, their punishment is getting their car privileges revoked and having to take "that big yellow school bus" for a week. "I do think a lot of money could be saved by cutting back on busing," she said.

Kerry Dalling, a parent and former high school English teacher, said giving kids the option to graduate early is great, but highly individualized. Her 19-year-old daughter would have "jumped at the chance" to leave high school early, while her 20-year-old was involved in arts and drama and loved staying through her senior year.

Dalling added her kids "didn't know anyone in high school who rode the bus."

Provo resident Jackie de Gaston said decreasing the number of school administrators is a worthy idea, calling them "snoopervisors" who waste time and money. "Give the salary of administrators to the best teachers so they'll stay and teach," said the mother of 10.