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EDUCATOR PUTS COST OF FULFILLING SCHOOLS’ NEEDS AT $186 MILLION

SHARE EDUCATOR PUTS COST OF FULFILLING SCHOOLS’ NEEDS AT $186 MILLION

Utah Education Association President Jim Campbell said on Friday that funding public education's critical needs would take $186 million in one-time and on-going state appropriations.

But the UEA leader didn't say how much - all or part - of the $186 million teachers would seek in the upcoming Legislature. "We know that higher education, social services, highways and water projects all have (funding) needs. We're starting to get our legislative package together, but it's not firm," he told the Deseret News after a discussion with teachers at the UEA convention.He told the teachers, "We can't go in and solve all of our problems in one year."

The UEA board of directors has several funding proposals in the works. UEA delegates from across the state will finalize the UEA legislative package at its house of delegates meeting Nov. 4. Before the meeting, the UEA will gather information from rank-and-file members at hearings.

The $186 million is the third - and largest - figure mentioned by the teachers' union.

On Aug. 24, the UEA called for the state's estimated $80 million annual surplus to be spent entirely on education, including a $24 million hike in teachers salaries.

In September, during the weekend that Davis teachers sparked a statewide teacher walkout, Campbell was asked on a televised news show to estimate how much money needed to be pumped into public education for teacher salaries, textbooks, libraries, asbestos removal and other critical needs. Campbell said no dollar figure had been calculated, but he estimated $150 million.

Friday, he said the calculations come out to $186 million.

State fiscal analysts have said there is $130 million in previous years' surpluses, $50 million in the ongoing surplus and $100 million in tax revenue from the natural growth in the economy.

A UEA proposal under discussion would ask for a 5 percent cost-of-living increase plus $1,000 per teacher pay raise. Campbell said the $1,000 raise would be the first step in a five-year plan that would bring Utah teacher salaries up to the Western states' average in three years and the national average in five years.

The UEA also wants funding increases for the weighted pupil unit (the state's basic formula for funding schools), retirement pay for older teachers who began teaching before retirement benefits increased in 1976, health insurance benefits, textbooks and supplies, growth, asbestos removal and class sizes.

Utah has the largest class sizes in the country. Campbell said that with $20 million, 800 additional teachers could be hired and assigned by need to fast-growing districts with large classes.

Despite the teachers' warm reception of Gov. Norm Bangerter on Thursday, and the governor's pledge to push for more education dollars, the teachers aren't softening their stance about a possible strike in January, if legislators fail to meet the teachers' funding expectations.

Campbell said the teachers will have to decide collectively how much they can realistically expect from legislators and then set that as their strike amount.

The UEA is preparing for that eventuality, and National Education Association workers will come to Utah before the legislative session to instruct teacher leaders about strike tactics, he said.

"Whether or not we have a major job action, we need to be prepared for it," he said.