Rural Summit County’s concerns about education, growth reflected by Spencer Cox campaign visit (w/ video)
OAKLEY — The scene looked customary for a small, rural town: A group of residents were gathered around tables at the local restaurant, talking about important issues in their community. Many were lamenting the growth of the surrounding areas and feared development coming to their small ranch town is inevitable.
During this particular conversation, an outsider was present who seemed sympathetic to the residents’ concerns. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was in town Monday as he kicked off an effort to visit every city in the state during his 2020 gubernatorial campaign by touring Summit County.
Coming from his own rural background of growing up in Fairview in Sanpete County, he garnered nods of approval as he relayed his own experiences of living in a state that is expected to double in population in 30 years.
As Cox traveled throughout the county, The Park Record spoke with residents and elected leaders to learn about their concerns leading into the 2020 elections.
Education and growth were common themes. Cox met with educational leaders from the North and South Summit school districts and discussed solutions to the challenge of training and retaining educators so schools are able to handle the influx of families moving into the districts.
Principal among the solutions discussed was teacher funding. In a roundtable with educators and members of the North Summit Board of Education, teacher compensation was listed as a main concern. Katie Silcox, the director of career and technical education for the district, said training needs to start while prospective teachers are still in high school to help districts recruit teachers from within their own communities.
“I think we can solve our own problem on a community level,” Silcox said. “If we’re raising our own and training our own to be teachers from a high school setting, we’re doing that with all our other careers, why aren’t we doing that with education? Maybe those kids will be the voice as they vote in the next election, they’re saying, let’s solve our own problem.”
South Summit Elementary School Principal Lisa Flinders, who met with Cox at the Oakley Polar King, described the problems of education and growth as a double-edged sword. Her largest legislative concerns for the 2020 election are how the state allocates money to school districts and how that money is used to train and prepare teachers.
“I have concerns about our growth,” Flinders said. “At our elementary school, we have 651 kids and our school was not built for that many kids. The rate of growth is not matching the rate of expansion.”
Cox echoed those concerns in an interview with The Park Record and says that the day’s meetings sharpened his focus on those issues as he begins his campaign.
“Different things that we can encourage young people to the teaching profession and making it more worth their while, obviously with funding, that is a big piece,” Cox said.
Concerns about not having enough money to keep up with growth were also echoed in Kamas, as the lieutenant governor held a meet-and-greet at the Kamas Foodtown. Grady and Janie Pace, after meeting Cox with their toddler and grocery cart in tow, said growth should be a main focus of the upcoming gubernatorial election.
“The hot topic issues in the state are housing costs and the growth that’s happening in the state, which is great economically, but the concern of growth” was at the forefront, said Grady Pace.
Despite the concerns of rural Summit County, Flinders added that the legislative priorities of the next governor may not matter a much as their kindness and respect. Residents on Monday spent time discussing how communities can hold on to the traditions of neighbors knowing neighbors and people being active members of their communities.
“I have confidence in the people that live in our community that kindness matters,” Flinders said. “And I think leadership happens top-down. So if the person elected loves compassion, loves caring, and honors respect, I think that makes a difference.”
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Arlene Loble served as the Park City manager in the 1980s, a pivotal period that prepared the community for the boom years that would follow in the 1990s. Loble, who recently died, is credited with introducing a level of professionalism to the municipal government that was needed amid the growth challenges.