Utah Education Association will wait for a few more pieces of the budget puzzle to be put into place before deciding if the total picture adds up to a strike.
"This is a good first step," said Jim Campbell, UEA president, responding to Gov. Norm Bangerter's announcement Monday that he will seek an additional $117 million for education in the upcoming budget year, bringing total education funding to near $2 billion.The increase includes a 6 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit, the basic budget from which teacher salaries come. However, Campbell stressed, "That doesn't mean a 6 percent raise for teachers." The 6 percent would assure a 4 percent salary increase, but the remainder would be divided over insurance increases and retirement costs.
That means, essentially, that teachers would barely be staying even, making little progress toward parity with the national average or even the Mountain West average, Campbell said during an afternoon news conference.
However, the UEA official was noncommittal about the prospects of a strike based on the governor's announcements Monday. The budget process is only beginning, he said, and teachers will wait to see how the final figures come in and how the Legislature massages the governor's budget proposals.
Campbell said he was disappointed the governor did not recommend that education's share of state revenues be increased. The percentage of the budget devoted to public education - approximately 48 percent - stays the same in the governor's proposals. He also had hoped for a commitment to an increase in spending to reduce class sizes in Utah, where the student/teacher ratio is the highest in the country.
The teacher association is meeting with its membership statewide and will make no recommendation regarding a strike until the financial picture becomes more clear.
"Our job in UEA now is to communicate effectively to educators, the Legislature and the public the needs of education. They just won't wait," he said.