Members of the Utah Education Association want state legislators to boost teacher salaries to among the top in the western United States and to assure career ladder indexing.

The UEA's House of Delegates, policymaking body for the association, voted Saturday to follow the association's recommendation, making this the top priority in a legislative package to be presented to the 1992 Legislature.During its annual spring session, a meeting at Highland High School that lasted more than four hours, 325 delegates agreed on several other priorities they want from the Legislature:

- Continue and expand funding for class-size reduction.

- Establish a statewide health insurance program, including post-retirement medical insurance.

- Establish a 25-year or "Rule of 80" retirement option - without a reduced penalty - for teachers, meaning teachers would be able to retire when their age and years of teaching total 80.

- Secure educator rights in the areas of evaluation, bargaining law, third-party grievance procedure and protection of provisional teachers.

- Continue educational technology initiative funding.

UEA President Lily Eskelsen, who conducted the Saturday session, said the 1991 Legislature saw fit to significantly increase funding for special education schools for the deaf and blind and applied technology centers. These programs saw improvements well above the cost of living, she said.

But "the bad news is that, for the vast majority of children who do not benefit from these programs, we saw an increase of only 3.3 percent in the weighted pupil unit." (WPU is defined as roughly the average yearly cost of a student's education).

Eskelsen said, "We are aware that many states are facing the consequences of severe recession and . . . are looking at cuts in funding and massive teacher layoffs. Utah, however, according to the governor, has a much more positive, much more optimistic financial picture and is actually experiencing growth. We have yet to see that optimism reflected in the education budget," Eskelsen said.

She said it is good news that legislators acknowledged that high-class sizes have a negative impact, not only on student achievement but on attitude, time-on-task and discipline. She said the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the first year of a proposed six-year plan to add $4 million yearly to elementary programs specifically earmarked for class-size reduction.

The bad news, she said, is that there are critical class-size needs in the secondary schools that need to be addressed. And because of a loophole in the funding bill, some districts are choosing to hire classroom aides with their funds instead of certified teachers, Eskelsen said.

While UEA is not opposed to the creative use of class-size reduction funds, Eskelsen said the teacher union "will not be confused by fancy footwork. A reduction in non-teaching duties is not a reduction in class size," she said, a point that brought strong applause from the delegates.

The legislative package contains many provisions for professional educator compensation - termed career ladders - and teacher-driven education reforms, retirement, equity in local option taxes, block grants, educators' rights and health and medical insurance.