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Jordan School District teachers prepared to strike

Layoffs could affect school sports

WEST JORDAN — About 500 people showed up to Jordan School Board meeting Tuesday night to let their opinions be heard regarding the district's budget cut plans, which includes laying off 500 employees.

One man held up a sign that read "Welcome to next year's classrooms," to which the audience cheered and clapped.

Members and supporters of the teacher's union, Jordan Education Association, rallied outside the packed auditorium. Students and educators held up signs that read "Speak for Tomorrow Today" and hoisted a 30-foot-long banner featuring pictures of teachers.

"I hope the school board listens to us since it's our future they are affecting," said Chase Schumaker, 16, a sophomore at Bingham High School, as he held up a section of the banner.

Schumaker participates in football and wrestling and said he's worried about the plans of some educators to not put in their usual time with athletics and extracurricular activities.

Daniel Melville, who teaches chemistry and coaches football at Riverton High School, said some teachers are talking about abandoning their obligations to athletics and extracurricular activities because they have too little time and too many kids.

"With the lack of prep time, they are going to become an impossibility," Melville said. "Either extracurricular is going to suffer or the classroom will suffer."

Melville said he doesn't think a strike is necessary, as it would just "alienate us from the parents."

Other Jordan District teachers say they are prepared to strike, depending on what happens at tonight's Jordan School Board meeting.

"Yes, I will walk out if that's what it takes to wake them up," said a Jordan District teacher who doesn't want her name printed for fear of retaliation.

Jordan Education Association president Robin Frodge told the Deseret News a walkout or strike is not definite. The intention is to attend tonight's meeting and share information with the board and public. From there, a series of public information events are planned before a strike would even be considered.

The district is trying to slice $30 million from its budget, which could mean eliminating jobs, increasing class sizes and reducing programs. Of the 500 positions to be axed, 250 will be teaching positions. High school teachers also would lose their prep period and teach an additional class in order to mitigate class size increases, which could be four children per class.

Some teachers — and especially coaches — say they are going to refuse to work more than their contract hours and will only do the minimum expected of their jobs until district officials and board members start listening. This means no extra time spent on athletics, tutoring, clubs and other extracurricular activities.

"We're fighting mad," said Dave Peck, head football coach of Bingham High School.

Peck said he and other educators feel unappreciated by both the district and the public.

"If things aren't changed, more dramatic things could happen," he said.

But Jordan Education Association president Robin Frodge said a walkout or strike is not definite. The intention is to attend tonight's meeting and urge the board to reconsider how to address the budget shortfall. From there, a series of public information events are planned before a strike would be seriously considered.

Jordan District Superintendent Barry Newbold issued a letter Monday stating employees could be terminated if they strike.

"An employee walkout, drop action or strike is an illegal activity," the letter stated. "Any illegal activity will not be tolerated and will result in disciplinary action, including possible termination."

The letter further detailed teachers are not to sway students to their views or use sick days as a unified effort of protest. A doctor's note will be required for any suspected misuse of sick leave.

Another Jordan District teacher, who requested her name not be printed out of fear of retaliation, called Newbold's letter "absolute betrayal" and said "he should be fighting for the kids and the teachers."

The anonymous teacher said she and other educators will strike if they can get some degree of unification.

"Other than our jobs, we have very little to lose at this point," she said.

Another letter from Newbold on Monday warned employees not to picket on school grounds.

"This activity is not sanctioned or approved by the Board of Education," the letter stated, adding that district property can't be used to distribute information not approved by the district.

The Jordan Education Association is planning informational rallies during Parent Teacher Conferences from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at high schools and middle schools throughout the district. However, Frodge said, they will be holding signs and distributing pamphlets across the street from schools on public property.

"Teachers want to change the board's mind about laying off 500 employees and have them switch to an alternative such as furlough days and raising taxes," Frodge said.

A letter circulating among Jordan District educators decries increased class sizes, reduced prep time, decreased salaries and layoffs.

The memo outlines a plan of attack which includes attending tonight's board meeting; picketing during parent teacher conferences Wednesday; bombarding legislators to support an equalization bill that would make Canyons School District pay Jordan District $15 million; cutting back on athletics and extracurricular activities; and, as a last option, a strike.

"We must stand together as a district if we are going to make a difference," the letter states.

Increasing taxes by $9.40 per month for a $200,000 home would recoup $14 million, Frodge said.

"The patrons — taxpayers — need to understand the necessity of a modest tax increase in order to preserve the quality of education that we have and avoid increasing class sizes," Frodge said. "We are the voice of common sense and reason."

The Jordan District PTA also is planning to be involved in tonight's event, Frodge said.

The budget plan calls for saving $2.5 million by cutting administrative positions; saving $11 million by eliminating, reducing or changing programs; and trimming $3 million by cutting classified positions. Axing non-classroom teacher positions will save $1 million. Increasing class size by an average of four students will recoup $12.5 million. The average class size in Jordan District is 26 students, according to district officials.

In voluntary actions, Newbold is taking a 10 percent cut from his $237,000 salary. Board members are taking a 10 percent cut from their $12,000 annual stipend.

So far this school year, the district has cut 220 district-level positions, which resulted in a savings of $9 million.

Last fall, the district used $20 million from its rainy day fund to keep the district going. The district is now looking at a deficit again and no rainy day fund to fill the hole.

Jordan officials say the district's deficit is due to the state funding shortfall, the recession and the district's split with the newly formed Canyons School District. The Jordan District, one of the largest in the state, has 2,631 teachers and 2,610 support staff.

Go to www.jordandistrict.org/board/budget/index.html for more budget information.

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