South Salt Lake • Democratic mayoral candidate Ben McAdams knows Salt Lake County is not directly involved in educating the valley's children.
But if he's elected mayor on Nov. 6, he pledged to make support for the public education system a priority of his administration, which would work within existing budget constraints to ensure pre- and after-school programs, parenting classes, health and nutrition counseling and mental health services are available.
"Ensuring [students] are ready to learn requires a collective effort where schools, communities, parents, nonprofit organizations, businesses and local government come together to meet the needs of youth and families," McAdams said in a Wednesday news conference at the Hser Ner Moo Community and Welcome Center. "The Salt Lake County mayor must play a key role in leading this collective effort."
McAdams' Republican opponent, Mark Crockett, expressed skepticism that McAdams could accomplish these goals without increasing taxes. "You can't add programs without adding costs," Crockett said. "That sounds like a pretty large extension of the role of county government.
That's not the case, said Kelly Colopy, an advocate for after-school programs when not working as deputy director of the county Community Services Department. She said the Hser Ner Moo center is typical of many of the type of operations the county can help, noting that it receives funding from more than a dozen sources from the federal, state and county governments to nonprofit groups and private providers.
"Partnerships are a key way we support our programs," said Colopy, noting that Salt Lake County contributed $500,000 a year directly to afterschool programs but leverages its position to secure an additional $2 million in outside funding. "Ben understands the need for those partnerships. It's important to have his support going forward."
McAdams said he would support partnerships to provide effective preschool opportunities, would establish an education liaison and organize a countywide summit of education stakeholders, would enhance after-school programs and would work with businesses help people transition from school to jobs. He envisions only a modest increase in county funding to advance these causes.
Republican Crockett, who has argued that the county needs to stick to the core services counties are supposed to provide, said that even within that limitation, there are some things the county can do for education.
"First is not to fight with the schools for tax dollars," he said. "If anybody needs to raise taxes it's the schools, not the county."
Crockett said the county could do a better job of making its existing "community service assets," such as rec centers and libraries, more available to help at-risk kids.
"We don't need to add new programs," he added. "If we retool them, that is probably the most powerful way we can help education."