Superintendent briefs on bills passed in Utah Legislature at school board meeting

GUNNISON—The South Sanpete School Board heard a glowing report on White Ribbon Week last Wednesday, in which students were taught how to use the internet safely and appropriately.

“We had great participation from all our students, and our initial feedback is that students liked it because the students themselves directed a lot of the exercises, even down to our elementary students,” said Jodi Anderson, instructional technology specialist for the school district.

Nadean Nielson, district technology director, said, “We are very glad any time our students are encouraged in proper internet usage.”

Board member Lynn Pickett had a comment on the topic of student activity.

“I think we limit our students in not letting them have more recesses,” she said. “Studies say that students are better able to focus better after recess. I remember having two or three recesses a day when I was in elementary school.”

The board briefly discussed the suggestion, which has come up in other meetings in recent years. As with those previous instances, no action was taken on the topic in Wednesday’s meeting.

School superintendent Ralph Squire reported on the Central Utah Educational Services (CUES) that submitted an annual report to the district.

“CUES saves the South Sanpete School District about $80,000 through purchasing services collectively,” the report showed.

Squire also reported that 85 of 192 educational bills that went to the Legislature had passed. Among these, one amendment passed early enough in the session that the education budget was established earlier than in past years, which allowed the school district to make plans for spending earlier.

Squire said the state Legislature set the weighed pupil unit, a figure that determines how much funding each the district receives per student, at a 5.8 percent increase.

“It may be that we did so well in the Legislature because of government incentives due to COVID that helped bolster our economy, and that may be why the Legislature was able to give us a good WPU increase,” he said.

He noted the Legislature also put $128M into an education stabilization bill that will help if the district faces unknown challenges in the future.

There were also a number of COVID-19-related education bills that passed, one of which evoked an emotional response from the superintendent.

“Yay!” is what Squire said when HB181 passed, which reduced the number of reports districts are required to do.

Squire went on to describe implications of other bills that passed and did not pass.

“A couple of bills did not pass, such as HB340, a bill that was the basis to get us about $100,000 to pay math and science teachers to teach an extra period, and that’s now gone. That hurt us last year and will hurt us again this year. Those restrictions don’t impact the large school districts, so they don’t squawk about it, but it hurt us,” he said.

“HB177 also did not pass, Health Education Teaching Consent, which would have taken local control away from individual school districts, and we [Utah superintendents] did not support it. There was also a bill to run hunter safety classes through schools, and that didn’t pass,” he said. “There was also a bill passed that said schools will not be assigned letter grades, and that’s a relief,” he said.

“There was also a bill that makes is so that you can no longer require a doctor’s note to justify non-attendance at school. Finally, SB18 examined five tax exemptions and will have an impact on taxes that will help businesses but hurt the county to the tune of about $30,000, and will cost the district about $20,000,” he said.

Squire noted that these observations were his own only, and now that the legislative session is over, superintendents will meet together and come up with a consensus on how the legislation on education will impact schools throughout the state.

Jake Hill, district business administrator, reported that Rocky Mountain Power gave the district rebates of about $14,000 because of recent improvements in power efficiency upgrades made in some schools.

Finally, the board congratulated four students in the district who made academic all-state, all from Manti High School. In girls’ basketball, Allie Bridges, Kassidy Alder and Trace Boggess were honored as was Sierra Roberts of the drill team.