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'Fighting mad': Hundreds attend Jordan School Board meeting to rail against budget cuts

WEST JORDAN — About 500 people showed up for a Jordan School Board meeting Tuesday night to let their opinions be heard regarding planned budget cuts that include laying off 500 employees.

One man sitting in the overflowing auditorium held up a sign noting the crowds: "Welcome 2 next years classrooms," to which the audience clapped and cheered.

The school board spent several hours listening to angry comments and tearful pleas from parents, students and teachers.

Jordan District is trying to manage a $30 million deficit that could mean eliminating jobs, increasing class sizes and reducing programs.

Of the 500 positions to be axed, 250 will be teaching jobs. High school teachers also would lose their prep period and teach an additional class to mitigate class size increases of an estimated four children per class.

Many educators say the district should raise taxes and consider furloughs instead. Some teachers say they will cut back on the time they spend on athletics and activities, or even walk out or go on strike, if the board doesn't listen.

Members and supporters of the teachers union, Jordan Education Association, rallied outside before Tuesday night's board meeting. Students and educators held up signs that read "Speak for Tomorrow Today" and hoisted a 30-foot-long banner featuring photos of their 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 is part of Bingham's football and wrestling teams and says he's worried about the plans of some educators to not put in their usual time with athletics and extracurricular activities.

The hearing was delayed an hour because fire marshals had to remove several hundred people from the room to meet safety standards. Groups then gathered in the parking lot and chanted, "Save our teachers!"

Corinne Gardner, mother of six students in the district, told the board she is against another tax increase, to which she received boos and hisses from the audience.

"I am not against teachers," Gardner said. "I am against taxing the people to fix the problem."

Jordan District spokeswoman Melinda Colton said no matter how the board balances the budget, it affects people. And the public has overwhelmingly said they don't want another tax increase.

"It will either impact students, teachers, taxpayers on fixed incomes or parents," Colton said.

The district is in a crisis and turmoil, said Scott Crump, who teaches political science and history at Bingham High and is a former Utah Teacher of the Year.

"I'm already working 10 to 11 hours a day, and now they're asking me to teach 30 more students and do it on my conference time," Crump said.

Donald Kuddes, 17, a senior at Copper Hills High, said district officials and board members should come out to the schools and see what is going on before they start judging and making decisions.

"Sports and performing arts gives us a way to express ourselves," Kuddes said.

Daniel Melville, who teaches chemistry and coaches football at Riverton High, told the Deseret News that some teachers are talking about abandoning their obligations in 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 the district decides to do.

"Yes, I will walk out if that's what it takes to wake them up," said a teacher who requested that her name not be printed for fear of retaliation.

Jordan Education Association president Robin Frodge told the Deseret News a walkout or strike is not definite.

The association's goal Tuesday night was to share information with the board and public. A series of public information events are planned before a strike would even be considered, Frodge said.

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. That would mean no extra time spent on athletics, tutoring, clubs and other extracurricular activities.

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

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.

Jordan District Superintendent Barry Newbold issued a letter Monday stating that 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 stated that 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 also requested that her name not be printed, called Newbold's letter an "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, they will be holding signs and distributing pamphlets across the street from schools on public property, 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 that includes picketing during parent/teacher conferences today; 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," she said. "We are the voice of common sense and reason."

The district's 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.

For more budget information, go to