SALT LAKE CITY – Utah schools, which during the last year have endured severe funding cutbacks from the state, are getting a helping hand from Utah credit unions thanks to $450,000 in donations from the Utah Credit Union Education Foundation. The Foundation, a unit of the Utah League of Credit Unions, said the fund raising only began in earnest in December with monies distributed to school districts used to purchase basic supplies including pencils, paper and calculators. "I am not familiar with any state league that has a `Credit Union for Kids' programs like ours that gives grants directly to needy schools," said Curt Doman, vice chairman of the Education Foundation. Rather than each CU undertaking individual programs to aid school districts, the concept behind the Foundation effort is to pool CU resources, said Doman. He added that the idea of CUs assisting education in Utah is hardly new, but coordination is proving more productive. From a political perspective, Doman, who also is president of Granite Credit Union of Salt Lake, acknowledges that the Foundation grants "also make sense" since the industry's role in helping education came up last year during the fight with bankers over taxing CUS. Leading bankers on government bodies maintained CUs should be taxed so more funds could be diverted into state education coffers, an argument which drew only tepid support from state legislators. The fund-raising programs in individual CUs have varied with some opting for "skip a payments" or direct donations by members and employees with funds diverted to the charity. The League emphasizes all of the funds go directly to the schools "and will reach Utah classrooms with not one cent spent on administration." Utah teachers can apply for the grants directly on the Internet. One of the biggest donors to the League Foundation has been America First Federal Credit Union, which this spring was at the center of the legislature's tax battle and was accused by the Utah Bankers Association of sheltering taxable "profits" which could be used for education. America First, which converted to federal charter May 1 but as a state charter paid $1.2 million a year in a state sales tax, denied the UBA charges, but it has agreed to donate $1.2 million to an education foundation with a $300,000 installment made each quarter. "We've always supported education, but like other credit unions in Utah, we never really tooted our horns," said John Lund, executive vice president of America First. -

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