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Utah Legislature: Union rep salaries targeted by bill

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill meant to ensure K-12 funding goes for education expenses rather than teacher union salaries passed through the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.

SB77, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, would forbid school districts from paying salaries of their local teacher association representatives. Such payment "smacks of impropriety," says bill supporter Ron Mortensen, who co-founded the grassroots group Citizens for Tax Fairness.

JoDee Sundberg, representing the Utah School Boards Association, said the issue is one of local control. "Those who have concerns (should) speak with their local boards of education and administration," she said.

Judi Clark, director of Officials with Parents for Choice in Education, a nonprofit group that supports the charter school movement, is behind the bill.

According to Parents for Choice, full-time Davis School District teachers representative Susan Firmage makes $50,549 a year. The district pays up to half, or $25,275, of her salary. Jay Blain, president of Granite Education Association, earns $56,492, of which the district pays $28,246; and Virginia Ellison, representing Salt Lake City School District's teacher association, makes $73,032, of which the district pays $24,344, according to Parents for Choice.

Each district has one union president who represents the teachers. Work generally includes teacher salary negotiations and serving as a liaison between teachers and administrators, as well as being on task forces and committees.

Only three districts in the state are large enough to warrant a full-time paid union president. Smaller districts have volunteer presidents who also work as teachers. Each school in a district has a volunteer union representative, as well.

Go to www.le.state.ut.us/asp/interim/Commit.asp?Year=2010&Com=SSTEDU to view the bill.

The impetus for the bill is a report out of the Legislative Auditor General's office. Go to www.le.state.ut.us/audit/09_bilr.pdf to view the report.

— Amy K. Stewart