The "feeding frenzy" over education funds that characterized last year's legislative session is not likely to repeat itself in the 1991 version.
Backed by the threat of a statewide teacher strike, the Utah Education Association was highly visible in 1990, negotiating directly with the governor and legislators for more money. In the last hours of the session, they sewed up a promise of a $1,000-per-teacher raise, an additional increase in the weighted pupil unit and authorization for local boards to increase property taxes for class size reduction without going to voters.The result was an average salary increase topping 6 percent - the largest the teachers had had in some time.
But the effort took its toll. The UEA is still licking its internal wounds. The association won't put on a repeat performance, said current President Lily Eskelsen.
"It's not in anyone's plan to have the same type of year we had last year," Eskelsen said.
That doesn't mean the UEA and other education groups are happy about Gov. Norm Bangerter's 5 percent increase proposal for public education this year.
The Utah Public Education Coalition, which represents the major education associations, wants a 6 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit and more progress toward regional salary parity for teachers than the governor's budget proposes.
With money matters somewhat less intense, legislators will continue their quest for educational restructuring. Among expected high-profile issues:
- A recommendation to change the method of selecting State Board of Education members. The proposal, made by an interim study committee, would create nominating committees in each school board district. The seven-member local committees, four of whom would be named by the governor, would select three to five nominees for board seats, with the governor naming two to be on the regular ballot. Debate is likely to focus on the extent of the governor's involvement.
- A proposal by Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful, to equalize capital outlay funds - school money raised through local taxes. The proposal will pit "rich" districts against those whose tax bases do not have the same ability to generate money. Other suggestions for revamping school finance formulas may compete.
- A package of bills intended to safeguard school children against teachers who engage in illegal sex and drug activities. The three bills would allow private schools to do criminal checks on prospective teachers; disallow expungement of police and court records of teachers who are convicted of sex crimes; and provide the same ban on expungement of arrest records, even if the individual is not convicted. In committee, debate centered on the rights of teachers to be protected against excessive intrusion into their private lives as balanced against the need to protect children.
- Creation of a new task force to study school trust land issues and extension of the education strategic planning committee that was created in 1990. Rep. Mike Waddoups, R-Salt Lake, also wants to create a study group to investigate the potential for restructuring Utah's school districts. It is likely to run into long-festering animosities against consolidating school districts, although its real intent is to determine the optimum district size - a study that could well lead to suggestions that some of the state's very large districts be split for administrative efficiency.
- A new version of Ogden Democrat Grant Protzman's suggestion that school administrators be required to return to the classroom periodically to teach. In its revised form, it asks that administrators spend one block of time every five years in the classroom, rather than trying to mix administration and teaching on an ongoing basis. The revision may make it more palatable to the Legislature.
- Protzman also plans to introduce a bill providing for a moment of silence in the public schools. Current Supreme Court interpretations on school prayers may do it in.