By Carl Fauver | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Democratic State Sen. Karen Mayne met with west-side school teachers earlier this year, she expected to hear the usual discussion about low salaries and limited funding for classroom supplies.
Instead, she heard some shocking revelations that prompted her to act quickly.
“State lawmakers who represent areas served by the Granite School District meet with members of the Granite Education Association every year before the state legislative session begins,” Mayne said. “But this year’s conversation was different and very troubling.”
The senate minority whip said the west Salt Lake Valley teachers sitting at her table all wanted to see more funding allocated to combat rising gang numbers and gang violence.
“I was shocked when the teachers explained how they are seeing kids as young as fifth grade becoming involved in gang activity,” Mayne continued. “(Gang leaders) are very sophisticated in the ways they recruit new members. They prey on kids who appear to be outsiders without many friends. After hearing them, I knew I needed to do something.”
“We really appreciate the effort Senator Mayne made to gain more funding to battle gang activity,” said State Board of Education member Linda Hansen. “She went out of her way to listen to the teachers’ concerns and then she took action.”
Hansen said, for several years, the state education board has had $1.2 million in annual tax funding set aside to combat gang activity. But by the time this issue landed on Mayne’s plate, that funding had already been allocated to school districts for the year.
So, the senator who represents just less than half of Taylorsville residents decided to go after more money.
“I went to my (senate) colleagues and explained the issues teachers were raising about gangs,” Mayne said. “I told them the $1.2 million earmarked by the state board of education was not enough. After some of my (senate) committees approved it, I was able to secure an additional $300,000 each year, boosting the total anti-gang funding now to $1.5 million annually.”
Schools will still have to apply for the funding each year and will still have to meet certain criteria to get it. But Mayne said the 25 percent boost in anti-gang funds will help more kids to avoid going down that path.
“In order to get anti-gang funding, schools must demonstrate they have proven techniques for dealing with the problem,” Hansen said. “If they have not used effective methods for dealing with the problem in the past, the schools have to explain what techniques they will use that have a proven success record in other places.”
Two of the primary ways school districts and law enforcement agencies combat gang recruitment are to develop organized after school activities and to establish mentoring programs.
Mayne described her success in securing the additional anti-gang funding to elected officials at a recent Taylorsville City Council meeting. Among those on hand to hear about was Unified Police Department Precinct Chief Tracy Wyant.
“Senator Mayne has long been an advocate for public safety — both police and fire — so seeing this effort to take on gang violence is not surprising,” the chief said. “Over the past 18 to 24 months, we have seen more homicides — throughout the Salt Lake Valley — committed by young gang members, from age 14 up into their early 20s. These funds should help the UPD Metro Gang Unit to combat this trend.”
Wyant also added that he doesn’t believe Taylorsville has a “considerable” gang problem.
“We have seen a modest uptick (in gang issues) over the past two years in Taylorsville,” he concluded. “But throughout the Salt Lake Valley, the problems are worse in several other areas.” Mayne is proud to have secured the anti-gang funding.
“I was surprised when the teachers raised that as such a critical issue,” she said. “And I’m glad we were able to earmark more funding for the problem.”
Mayne has served as Utah’s District 5 senator since she was appointed to replace her husband, the late Ed Mayne, when he passed away in 2007.
“Ed and I were basically co-senators working together, since he was first elected in 1994,” she said. “It has been a challenge serving without him. But I am happy and proud to work on behalf of my neighbors in the west Salt Lake Valley.”