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Devon Dewey, KSL.com

Road to Understanding: Education, public lands major issues discussed at town hall

By Devon Dewey  |  Posted Mar 20th, 2017 @ 10:40pm


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FILLMORE — State officials, county leaders, educators, business owners were among a group who got together Monday night to talk about concerns impacting communities all around Utah.

The town hall meeting took place at the original Territorial Statehouse in Fillmore and lasted about an hour and a half. People who attended the meeting raised concerns about clean air, better salaries for teachers, public lands, growth and economic hardships.

“Getting us all to think together about the others in the state, and how we’re all one as we solve these problems is a great beginning,” said Robert Grow, CEO of Envision Utah.

According to the University of Utah Education Policy Center, 56 percent of new teachers who started in 2008 left the classroom by 2015.

“It’s a crisis that our class sizes are growing and our kids are being taught by teachers who don’t have the rich experience, when we think back to the teachers we were taught by,” said Sara Doutre, a mother attending the meeting.

“The three P’s are pay, parents, and politics. We need to address those three issues and maybe we can resolve some of these challenges that we are hearing about presently,” said Mark Huntsman, a member of the Utah State School Board.

Rural Utah also has its share of issues that need addressing. Many counties in eastern Utah show negative job growth as prices for oil and gas drop.

“When you look at more rural areas, a couple of things pop up that are kind of interesting. Of course, jobs are there, but you also see things like public lands and issues that are related to energy that people in more urban areas don’t think quite as much about,” said Shawn Teigen, research director of the Utah Foundation.

Many county commissioners expressed concerns about needing to add diversification in their counties. They want to add more jobs and more people to help their economies grow, but they have a difficult time attracting both business and people to their counties.

A lot of students will leave after graduating high school because they don’t have any opportunities for work. This creates ongoing problems for the county as they lose the future generation.

“We have great ethics in our children. They are educated well but we have to export them,” said Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney. “What we’d like to do is challenge the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to bring some of these high sector jobs to rural Utah, because we don’t want to export our children.”

In other parts of Utah, growth creates a problem with infrastructure, traffic congestion, and enough water for new people moving in.

“One of our challenges is infrastructure, especially water. Some surveys show that we’ll have 60,000 people by 2050, and we have about 13,000 now, and that water has to come from somewhere,” said Brent Boswell, the economic development director for Juab County.

Lehi and St. George have similar issues with growth. Discussion about finding new water sources and providing enough water for people moving in was a key issue for many communities along the Wasatch Front and in southern Utah.

A few people also talked about how to handle the “Silicon Slopes” once the prison moves to Salt Lake City. Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie said that the county will work to protect farmers and agriculture in Utah County, even as high-tech jobs boom in the county.

Better air for Utah was also a hot topic for many people in attendance.

“Now there’s nothing more fundamental to the quality of life than our air quality. It’s our health, it’s our economy, it’s the beauty of the area,” said Alan Matheson, Department of Environmental executive director.

“The bad news is that we are still not quite to compliance yet. The good news is we are making good progress.”

KSL News will continue the conversation for the many issues that were brought up by visiting many of these communities across Utah to talk with individuals about their concerns.

Devon Dewey
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