Teachers at Davis High School started a chain reaction Friday morning when they walked off the job in protest of the Legislature passing tax cuts and failing to put any additional money into education.
Charges of irresponsibility were being exchanged by teachers and state officials, including the governor and legislative leadership as Davis showed its discontent.A Granite District junior high school faculty voted to join the walkout late in the morning, and there were "rumblings from some other schools in the district," said Superintendent Loren G. Burton.
Confused students in about a dozen Davis schools were greeted by locked doors and, in some instances, by crying teachers who apologized but said they felt they had no other recourse.
Some of the students weren't too unhappy with the day off. There was a loud cheer from the students at Bountiful Junior High School as teachers filed through the doors.
"We just went to class and the door was locked. We didn't know what was going on," said Cherie Sanders, an eighth-grader at Bountiful Junior High School. "They just gave us our assignments and said good-bye."
Davis High School teachers voted 78-2 Friday morning to lead the walkout effort. They decided, however, not to picket.
Davis Superintendent Richard Kendell said, "I am not sympathetic to the point of a walkout. I think I can speak for the school board, which doesn't support the walkout either."
Kendell said that he and the school board have been sympathetic to the teachers' calls for a pay increase. Earlier this year, the Davis Education Association overwhelmingly rejected a negotiated contract with the district. The contract included a 3 percent pay raise, but the teachers said it was not enough because of a 60 percent increase in insurance rates and because they hadn't had a raise in three years.
"The teachers are really exasperated," Kendell said.
At Davis High School on Friday morning, students held a rally in support of their teachers. One large sign said, "Go For It, Teachers."
Lydia Harris, student-body vice president, said that teachers deserve a raise because "students are suffering because we're losing a lot of good teachers."
Students then attended a morning assembly while teachers met to discuss their action. When students came out of the assembly, they found doors locked and teachers gone. The administration later announced that there would be no school Friday, and buses were dispatched to return students to their homes.
"This strike caught us without warning," Kendell said.
At the meeting, teachers said they were displeased that legislators, in special session this week, returned $38.5 million of revenue surplus to taxpayers.
"I have been a teacher for five years," said Joan Hansen. "I don't want the Legislature making a career decision for me." Another teacher chided the governor for his attitude about education.
"Through his spokesman, the governor said last night that a walkout would be very irresponsible. I think the governor is very irresponsible because he said he was a friend to education but has never delivered quality education."
During the Davis meeting, teachers urged all their colleagues in the state to follow them in the walkout. They asked that the teachers stagger their walkouts to prolong public attention to their plight.
At a meeting in Clearfield High School following the Davis High teachers action, teachers voted to walk out but not on Friday because it is the high school's homecoming. They will, however, allow their DEA representative to determine when the walkout will occur.
Clearfield teachers said they did not want families to plan for the walkout.
By 11:30 a.m., hundreds of students were on their way home as the walkout begun at Davis High spread to 28 schools. They were Davis, Bountiful and Mountain high schools; Bountiful, Centerville, Farmington, Kaysville, Millcreek, Mueller Park, South Davis and Syracuse junior high schools; and Antelope, Crestview, East Layton, Hill Field, Holbrook, Holt, Meadowbrook, Monte Vista, Morgan, Oakhills, South Clearfield, Valley View, Vae View, Washington, West Point, Whitesides and Bountiful elementary schools.
The walkout will likely be short-lived. Teachers voted to support a 24-hour action. They will lose a day's pay.
District officials had hoped the teachers would stop short of an action but had tried to prepare for orderly closure of the schools if it happened, said Lynn L. Summerhays, president of the Davis District School Board. He said busing services had been put on alert in case they were needed.
"We wanted things to be as orderly as this kind of thing can be," he said.
Members of the Davis Education Association had met late Thursday and it was expected that Davis High School teachers, who led the walkout, would not act until about 11 a.m. The school board was not certain Thursday night that other schools would follow suit, Summerhays said. The group was to meet at noon Friday to assess the situation.
"There is just so much frustration (in Davis) that the Legislature went ahead with a tax cut," said James Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association.
"That $38.5 million (in tax cuts passed by the Legislature) could have bought the textbooks we need three times over."
Although Gov. Norm Bangerter and the Legislature have indicated educational issues will be at the top of the list for the winter session in January, educators are indicating a lack of trust, Campbell said.
That lack of trust may lead educators to become more politically involved, to create pressure on the pres-ent Legislature and to try to put more friends of education into the body, Campbell said.
Ken Zenger, head of the Utah Affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which has a much smaller membership than the UEA, said he perceives the Davis walkout as an indication of dissatisfaction with UEA leadership.
"I visited schools in Davis this morning and the mood is ugly," Zenger said. The rank and file of teachers feel their worth to Utah is diminishing and are frustrated at their inability to contribute to decision-making.
Checks with other districts indicated very high interest in the Davis situation, but no overt shows of support.
In Granite's Eisenhower Junior High School,teachers were to hold a noon vote on the issue. Granite Education Association reportedly was polling its membership. However, Burton said the district is making progress toward a settlement of contract issues with the union and he did not expect to see any walkouts in his district.
Teachers were on the job and working in Jordan and Salt Lake districts.
"I haven't heard anything. None of the principals have called to say anything about unrest," said J. Dale Manning, the district personnel administration.
Manning said he was told unofficially by a teacher negotiator that the Salt Lake Teachers Association ratified their contract with the district at a meeting this week.
Salt Lake teachers will get one of the highest increases in the state. There will be a 4 percent across-the-board increase, of which 1.5 percent came from savings of a renegotiated insurance benefits. However, teachers at the top of the salary schedule will receive 5.4 percent.
Sam Holbrook, a science teacher for 34 years, said he walked out of Bountiful Junior High School with other teachers to protest what they believe is irresponsible behavior on the part of the governor and the Legislature."
"I wanted them to know how unhappy we are," said Holbrook.
The 38 teachers at Farmington Junior High School also walked out to support the Davis High strike and to demonstrate their unhappiness with the Legislature. Keith Brimhall, the school's DEA representative, said a majority of the school's teachers voted to walk out for one day Friday "to tell the legislators that it's time to fund education.
"We're extremely disappointed in the actions of the Legislature," Brimhall said. "We had hoped they would retain the surplus, at least into the regular session. That's what we lobbied for and that's what we thought the legislators were leaning toward."
Brimhall said a majority of the 38 teachers voted to walk out. District buses pulled up to the school within 30 minutes of the vote to return students to their homes, Brimhall said.