Having had three days to assess the 1991 Legislature, teachers are beginning to believe the majority of lawmakers shared a common theme:
"It was a good year to put public education on hold."As a result, teachers are rapidly losing faith in the Legislature's commitment to education, said Lily Eskelsen, president of the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.
"Teachers are in consensus that this was a very disappointing year, despite all the beautiful words given in the Legislature last year which indicated this would be the year for education."
The Legislature didn't completely ignore education but everything it did give was tempered by "bad news," she said.
For example, a 3.2 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit was enough to keep budgets operating smoothly but was only a little more than half the amount needed to get the state back on track with cost-of-living increases in surrounding states.
Eskelsen spent five hours behind closed doors Saturday with UEA leaders from around the state to decide what action, if any, the organization might take in light of the Legislature's actions.
Each UEA member will be surveyed in the next two weeks, but Eskelsen said she is already hearing that teachers are getting restless.
"There were (UEA leaders) who heard from their constituents that perhaps job actions are needed to get positive action from the Legislature," said Eskelsen.
Teachers this year held no demonstrations, rallies or protests but chose to work within the system, attending budget committee meetings and contacting legislators personally, Eskelsen said.
It didn't seem to work.
"Not having mass demonstrations and rallies . . . was good-faith on part of teachers. I don't feel we got the same consideration back . . . The message from the Legislature is clear: To get them to move, you must be vocal and dramatic in what you do."
Although there was a $4 million allocation to hire more teachers to reduce class loads, there were no significant capital outlays to construct classrooms for the new teachers.
And a $12 million funding of technology was $2 million less than was promised last year.
Educators were also angered over the Legislature's failure to approve a strategic plan for education or to hold true to long-term promises from last year.
The budget process, Eskelsen said, was more of "a political instrument than a reflection of reality."
"(The lawmakers) will tell social services and education every year that `We have given you every dime we have' only to discover later in the year that they find $30 million that they didn't project for."
Eskelsen said if the Legislature holds special sessions this spring or summer and finds there were millions in surpluses, "it is going to be an issue" with teachers.
She wouldn't speculate on the possibility of a strike but said, "We will use all kinds of options."
"I'm afraid the Legislature has missed a great opportunity to show that education was a continuing commitment rather than a commitment they wanted to make just to avoid a strike. They've shown just the opposite. All of that will be taken into consideration as we decide what to do."