From the 1-21 post--
This is the Tribune's editorial on the legislature's audit of class room size reduction money expenditures:
Uphill battle: Cost of cutting classroom size is huge
Article Last Updated: 12/19/2007 05:47:57 PM MST
Utah's top educators are like Sisyphus, forced to push the same rock up a hill for eternity, when it comes to reducing class sizes in the state's public schools.
The Legislature, since 1993, has appropriated more than $700 million specifically for a class-size-reduction program. Early on, the school districts got their share of the money and mostly used it to hire and pay teachers. Theoretically, that should reduce class sizes, since more teachers should equal more, smaller classes.
But, in Utah, the state with the highest birth rate in the nation and an increasingly robust influx of new residents, enrollment increases have more than offset the appropriation during the past three years. Those years are the subject of an audit by the Utah Legislative Auditor General's Office.
Only 18 of the state's 40 districts track where class-size-reduction money is spent, since they are not required to do so. The audit shows most of the money in those districts where the funds are kept separate has been spent on compensating teachers, some of whom were hired in earlier years with class-size-reduction money.
There is no mystery about missing or misspent money, the auditors emphasize. Legislators who seem suspicious about where the money has gone should read that part of the report carefully. The Legislature has simply appropriated less than the amount needed to keep up with enrollment growth and
add teachers and classroom space. In some years, there has not been enough to continue supporting teachers previously hired with program funds.
The audit shows teacher salary and benefit increases have been "reasonable." In fact, teacher pay in Utah is low compared to most Western states. But the auditors did find some problems with the program. They recommend that districts be required to track how program money is spent. They also say schools with small class sizes - mostly charter schools - should not automatically receive the funds, as they do now. We agree.
If they make those changes, legislators will be able to see clearly that this education program, like so many others, is underfunded, and that Utah's large families and burgeoning population, not misspent funds, are the root causes of crowded classrooms.
This is the legislature's claim that the districts aren't using the class room size reduction money as intended:
Lawmakers demand accountability on money to reduce class size
By Lisa Schencker
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 01/16/2008 09:15:52 PM MST
Posted: 8:45 PM- Schools need to be more accountable for how they spend money meant to reduce class sizes, lawmakers said Wednesday, reacting to a December audit that showed $460 million meant to make classes smaller over the past seven years hasn't led to any change.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, wants to see school districts chip in more local money to reduce class sizes. He hopes to push for changes to the law that would only offer the money as an incentive to districts that can prove they're keeping sizes down. Now, all school districts and charter schools get the money automatically based on enrollment.
"It's not our job to fund every component of achieving class size reduction," Stephenson told members of the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
The audit looked at several districts that did track how they spent the money and found those districts were spending the money appropriately. The problem was that the money was only enough to fund reasonable salary and benefit increases for teachers hired in past years to help reduce class sizes, not hire new teachers, according to the audit.
The state spent $74 million to reduce class sizes in fiscal year 2007. Utah has 22.6 students per teacher compared with an average of 15.8 students per teacher nationally, according to State Schools Superintendent Patti Harrington.
Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, said she's also working on legislation to help reduce class sizes, especially in kindergarten through third grade. She declined to offer specifics but said she'd like to see significantly more money put toward class size reduction and schools held more accountable. Many schools don't track how they spend the class-size reduction money because lawmakers took certain reporting requirements out of the law several years ago in an attempt to streamline the process, according to the audit.
Morgan also has concerns about the money going to schools that don't necessarily need it.
"Class size reduction money should go to those schools with large class sizes," Morgan said. "There are some schools that don't have a problem."
One of the auditors' suggestions was to re-examine how the money is distributed to charter schools which, unlike traditional public schools, have enrollment caps. Auditors said the intention of the recommendation is not to harm charter schools but instead to make sure the money is being spent most efficiently.
Several charter school officials, however, bristled at the idea Wednesday.
Salt Lake Arts Academy Principal Amy Wadsworth said her school shouldn't be penalized for achieving smaller classes through creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit, which are what set the school apart.
"If you take away my money, I will start to look like other schools," Wadsworth said.
Sizing it up
What the audit found:
-- $460 million in state funds meant to reduce class sizes over the past seven years has merely maintained a certain number of teachers hired to reduce class sizes in the past but hasn't resulted in new class size reduction.
-- Many districts don't specifically track how they spend the class size reduction money.
-- Funding to reduce class sizes has not kept up with K-8 enrollment growth as it supposed to by law.
From the 1-15 post--
Tribune editorial on Legislators and lobbyist gifts
Pride of Utah: The best Legislature money can buy
Article Last Updated: 01/14/2008 06:41:44 PM MST
Lobbyists who woo Utah lawmakers can tell you that state Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, is not a cheap date.
Jazz tickets: $2,586. Meals: $1,871. Travel and lodging: $1,431. Golf: $350. Miscellaneous swag: $672.
When it comes to accepting freebies from legislative lobbyists, Dmitrich, who received $6,910 worth of gifts in 2007, is the undisputed King of Bling.
And Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City ($4,999); Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo ($4,197); Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara ($2,704); Rep. Greg Curtis, R-Sandy ($2,182); and Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, ($2,035) make up his court.
Those aren't the only lawmakers who create the appearance of impropriety and sully the reputation of the Legislature by accepting gifts. They're just the worst offenders.
We'd love to tell you about each and every lawmaker who waddled up to the trough, and document each and every concert ticket, greens fee and free meal, but that's not possible. Lobbyists spent $279,000 on state legislators and executive branch officials last year. We simply don't have the space.
Plus, most of the gifts listed on lobbyist disclosure forms come with no names attached due to Utah laws that help lobbyists hide lawmakers who accept handouts. Lobbyists are only required to report the names of of recipients of tickets to events, tangible gifts valued at $10 or more, or food and beverage purchases greater than $50.
To be fair, our lawmakers are not panhandlers. The lobbyists, who are paid to persuade, come to them.
Nor can you call it payola. Officially - wink, wink - the gifts come with no strings attached.
But make no mistake, the lobbyists are buying. They're buying access, face time, phone time. And our legislators are selling.
Folks, if you want your government back - if you want your lawmakers to do your bidding instead of catering to the companies and organizations that hire lobbyists - you'd better start lobbying for a law that makes it illegal for legislators to accept gifts of any kind.
Call your legislators. Tell them to buy their own lunch, and pay for their own rounds of golf. Tell them to call the box office like the rest of us if they want to go to a Jazz game or a rock concert. Tell them that the office they hold entitles them to represent you in the Legislature, and nothing more.
Another Tribune editorial on legislators and lobbyist gifts
Lawmakers for sale: Utah desperately needs campaign finance reform
Article Last Updated: 01/12/2008 03:30:00 PM MST
Forget pornography. If you want to see something really obscene on the Internet, go to elections.utah.gov/candidates.html, click on campaign "financial disclosure reports," and look up Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy. Then settle back and prepare to be appalled.
A brewery. A tobacco company. A beer wholesalers association. Looks like Curtis will cash any check.
Cruise that 24-page list of campaign contributors - Anheuser-Busch, Bayer, Chevron, Delta. Curtis's corporate benefactors start with every letter of the alphabet except "X." (He'll have to give XMission a call.)
And look at those amounts - EnergySolutions, $15,100; Reagan Outdoor Advertising, $7,500; ATK Aerospace, $5,000. It reads like a who's who of Utah businesses: 1-800 Contacts, Kennecott, Overstock.com.
Then check out Curtis's campaign expenditures - plane tickets, phone bills, parking, gasoline. Thank-you cards, Christmas cards and the stamps to send them. Flowers and books, billboards and maps. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, all in the name of getting elected?
Apparently, if the lobbyists weren't buying, Curtis and his campaign fund picked up the tab. Ah, it's good to be king.
Now look at that bottom line. Curtis reported a balance of $228,058 on Jan. 5, a full 10 months before the general election. No doubt he'll collect a lot more as the Day of Decision draws near. Of course, he could also take the money and run. Curtis reclaimed his seat by only 20 votes in 2006, so, who knows? He might decide to call it quits and spend the money on a vacation home, or a yacht, or a trip around the world.
Amazingly, Utah lawmakers, upon their retirement, can spend leftover campaign cash however they please.
The speaker's report is not the only one that will raise your eyebrows, but he's the reigning King of Cash. He also helps set the agenda on the Hill. He can make campaign finance reform - reasonable limits on what candidates can accept and how they can spend it - a priority. But he won't.
Curtis and the rest of our legislators who refuse to pass meaningful ethics and campaign finance reform will tell you that real reform is not necessary. With voices steeped in righteous indignation, they'll say that their constituents come first, that they can never be bought. Don't believe it.
But the one thing that money can't buy, if you take the time to weed out the candidates with objectionable campaign receipts and expenditures, is your vote.
The speaker's report is not the only one that will raise your eyebrows, but he's the reigning King of Cash.