Money - not enough of it, specifically - will be uppermost on the minds of public educators when the Legislature meets in January. But they also will follow with interest bills related to student discipline, the number of years required for graduation, possible privatization of food and transportation services and other items.
Finding money for school personnel salary increases will become a district-by-district juggling act again this year, short of a legislative miracle. Across-the-board raises for teachers and other school workers appear unlikely.Individual districts will have to shuffle budgets to find more money for salaries, if possible. Otherwise, the majority of school personnel will go into their fourth year without raises.
That news will do nothing to improve already-low teacher morale, said James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction.
The State Office of Education has prepared several versions of a 1989-90 budget, beginning with what it would like (an $80 million increase) and coming down by increments to what it is likely to get - little more than this year's budget.
The State Office of Education would like a 5 percent hike in the weighted pupil unit (WPU) - the money the state divides among its schoolchildren on an equalized basis. Five percent would allow for a general salary increase. However, the governor has proposed a 3 percent increase.
Employee salaries eat the lion's share of the WPU. With a 3 percent increase, the WPU would rise from $1,204 to approximately $1,240 per child - still among the lowest per-child expenditures in the country.
Three pressing demands are expected to quickly suck up the additional money generated by a WPU increase that would generate approximately $38 million more for schools: the skyrocketing costs of medical insurance for school employees, the fixed costs of teacher lane changes and increments, and an increase in the number of students in Utah schools, said Moss.
"We'll be in serious trouble if we don't deal with the insurance question soon," Moss said. The cost of providing health insurance for school employees has increased 20 to 30 percent per year in most districts, and there seems to be no quick end to the escalation in premiums. The additional costs for the upcoming school year are estimated at $14 million to $15 million - almost half the anticipated income increase. Salary increments already built into district budgets will take another $15 million, and $8 million will be needed to provide for growth in student numbers.
Estimates of potential surpluses - of which education would hope to get a share - are still very fluid, said Laurie Chivers, state education finance officer.
For one thing, education administrators are hoping to tap into surplus funds for relief from federally mandated asbestos management. Estimates of costs to encapsulate or remove asbestos from schools range up to $50 million in Utah. School districts complain they have no unallocated money to respond to the federal mandate.
Gov. Norm Bangerter has his own ideas about how any surpluses should be spent. His office anticipates about $14 million in surplus funds, and the governor has suggested that approximately $12 million go to the West Valley Highway project. Other estimates of surplus income range up to $28 million.
"Education might get some, but not much," Chivers said. Public education would prefer to keep its share of the state pot - now in excess of 50 percent - at the same level, regardless of how much the state takes in.
Bangerter also has suggested tax reforms that could reduce income for education, a source of concern for educators who have struggled with lower-than-expected funding for several lean years.
Some of the areas where the office would like to increase its funding are technology, the Custom Fit program that trains workers for specific industries, the Utah Industries for the Blind (which has not been breaking even) and programs for identifying and helping students who are at risk of dropping out, Moss said.
School districts also want to retain the retirement savings generated by an early retirement program two years ago and use the money for salaries.
A bill prefiled by Rep. Nolan R. Karras, R-Roy, is sure to generate debate among education leaders, Moss said. The measure, HB2, would allow school districts, by a majority vote of their electorates, to put a surtax on income to supplement school funding.
Small, poor districts that probably couldn't successfully push such elections are likely to line up against rich districts on the bill unless some method of sharing additional revenue is included. That possibility might, in itself, kill the measure, since districts probably could not muster support for a surtax election if some of the money was going out of the district, Moss said. Education leaders are working with Karras to try to make the bill workable, he said.
Another prefiled bill would provide for a tax check-off for textbooks. People filing an income tax return could donate a portion of their return for textbooks - one of the identified areas of critical need in education.
Other non-fiscal issues expected to be before the Legislature include:
-Early graduation incentives. Districts encouraging students to graduate after 11 years of school would be provided economic incentives. The incentives also would be extended to universities and colleges that would be expected to absorb these students more quickly.
-Privatization of school services and oversight of school buildings by the State Building Board. Three bills sponsored by Sen. Lorin N. Pace, R-Salt Lake, would require school districts to contract with private companies to operate food and transportation services. The State Building Board would oversee maintenance and construction of school buildings.
-Drivers education. A bill would authorize school drivers education programs to administer a written test that would also serve as the written portion of the state driver's licensing examination.
-Removal of mandatory remediation requirements for seventh- and eighth-grade students. The bill would reverse a law passed last year demanding that students in middle/junior high school who don't pass core classes take remediation.
-Prohibition of corporal punishment in schools. The bill would strengthen current laws protecting students against corporal punishment. The State Board of Education opposes the bill on grounds it is not necessary.