With some calling it the wrong time to stage a strike, Davis Education Association faculty representatives agreed Wednesday night to have teachers vote on a proposed contract and return to their classrooms even if the contract isn't ratified.

More than 300 teachers crowded the multipurpose room at Farmington Junior High School as their representatives voted 54 to 11 to send the contract to the association membership. They also voted 53 to 5 to return to classes Aug. 29 without a contract, if necessary.The representatives also agreed to take an unusual neutral position on the contract. They have normally recommended previous contracts, according to Kathie Bone, DEA president.

While the new contract includes no pay raises, district negotiators have offered to pay off a $1.2 million debt plaguing the district employees insurance program. That will allow employees to be transferred from a self-insured program to a state insurance pool while maintaining current coverage and premiums.

If generated in salary it would represent a 4 percent increase or about $278 a year more in family insurance coverage.

"We are saying this is the best settlement we could get this year, but we do not feel satisfied," Bone said noting that the lack of funding from the Legislature was to blame for no raises or cost of living increases.

The proposed contract keeps intact a teacher salary schedule used by the district for the past two years. Those who are not eligible for the scheduled raises - usually teachers who have been employed more than 20 years - will continued to be guaranteed a $240 yearly "experience bonus." It would also establish a 183-day contract, which would eliminate Utah Education Association convention days as paid working days, thus increasing hourly wage rates.

The DEA's 1,780 members will have until Aug. 18 to return ballots for or against the proposed contract. The Davis County School Board must also approve the agreement.

Teachers at the meeting said that the Legislature and public need to get the message that education needs more funding. However, teachers said that striking this fall to send that message may only add fuel to the campaign for the tax limitation initiatives, which they said would mean severe cutbacks in the number of district teachers. Some suggested a district walkout or sick-out while the Legislature is in session or a strike next fall.

"We have got to change the flavor the Legislature. We do not intend to say this is great and roll over," said Pete Anderson, a Bountiful High School teacher.

Another teacher in favor of a district sick-out said, "There are a lot of us who are pretty sick. We could all go show (the Legislature) how sick we are."

DEA Board Member Sandra Christensen said that the large number of teachers attending the Wednesday meeting indicated teachers' concern and frustration. She said two-thirds as many teachers attended the meeting than have in the past.

"I am assuming the teachers will vote to accept it, but will not like it," she said about the contract.

Other provisions in the proposed contract package include giving teachers notification if layoffs are pending, expanding parent-teacher conference time for teachers assigned double sessions of kindergarten or extended day school and allowing teachers to go before a hearing examiner before the school board decides on a grievance.