It seems everybody on Capitol Hill wants to give educators a nice raise.

But how to go about it?

The question turned into a drama of sorts Friday morning in the House Education Committee, with the starting pay-raise bill upstaged and, ultimately, stripped of a main character: principals.

Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, proposed boosting the state's per-student funding formula, the weighted pupil unit (WPU), by 3.5 percent. That would equal $86 million, he said, to give educators a $2,500 raise, as lawmakers did last year.

The WPU is the old-school way to give teachers a raise.

It goes out to districts and is based on the number of kids they have and what those kids' needs are, such as special education. School districts can use that money to pay teachers, custodians, secretaries and bus drivers or use it to fund skyrocketing insurance.

The Utah School Employees Association supports Dougall's WPU boost in the original HB212.

"I think it's pretty apparent I'm a fan of local control," Dougall told the committee.

But the committee was stumped.

The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee this week set priorities, including a 3 percent WPU increase and a $2,500 raise for teachers, and forwarded them to the Executive Appropriations Committee, which forms the state budget. That's typically how the process works.

So why the separate bill?

There is no other bill to specifically address teacher compensation like last year, Dougall noted.

Enter Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville.

Froerer convinced the committee to delete Dougall's HB212 and replace it with his own version, which gives every educator a straight-up $2,500 raise.

"Rather than have doubt if it's going to go the way we want it to go ... let's directly appropriate it to teachers," Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said.

The idea is to complete the goal of boosting beginning teacher salaries by $5,000 over two years to ease a teacher shortage.

"This puts the educators salary and compensation package up there with other industries to attract and keep good teachers," Froerer said. "I do have some concerns if this money is put in the WPU, will it flow ... to the teacher? I do have a good feeling (their raises wouldn't) be $2,500."

The Utah Council of Educators supports the $2,500 raise, which Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, said "has been a huge success in my area."

But the Utah Education Association prefers the WPU increase. As Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, a Holladay Democrat and schoolteacher, notes, a straight-up raise compensates young teachers who may essentially get a 10 percent raise, more than veterans, who may end up with a 5 percent raise.

"I think, justifiably, the more experienced teachers say we may be overlooked in favor of bringing in new teachers," she said.

Added Rep. Lou Shurtliff, D-Ogden, and a retired schoolteacher: "The WPU works. I don't think we want to undermine what a great model we have, and what a great funding we have with the WPU."

Dougall decried the way most school districts handled last year's raise. The Legislature inadvertently shortchanged the raise by $22.5 million, a problem an audit attributed to miscalculations by the State Office of Education and legislative staff in keeping up with the many versions of the bill. Legislators were adamant as soon as the shortfall was discovered that they would fill in the hole this session. But just 15 school districts — Dougall singled out Alpine — paid the whole raise up front, demonstrating they trusted lawmakers would follow through, he said.

Dougall unsuccessfully attempted to amend the substituted bill to make the State Office of Education pay for any shortfalls due to a miscount out of its own budget.

The issue really comes down to a policy decision, said Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George, and co-chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

"If anyone on this committee thinks we're going to get out of this session without a WPU increase ... you're crazy," Last said. "So the idea is, if you want to help the bottom salaries, vote for this bill. Everything's going to work out in the session, so don't panic."

The bill calls for $88.2 million — enough for Social Security to be taken out of it so it's a true $2,500 salary increase, like last year.

Only there's one part that's not like last year.

Froerer's substitute removes principals from the pay list. Dougall plans to change that.

"I will fight to get them restored in this," Dougall said. "I believe school administrators should be compensated."

HB212's next stop: the full House.

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