The Utah Education Association has not called for a teacher strike if the tax initiatives pass in November's election, but the UEA president warned teachers that they may be out of a job if tax protesters are successful.
"The situation is serious, and teachers need to get prepared for the worst thing that could happen. I am saying to teachers don't go into debt, be prepared - you may only have a contract for half a year (if the tax initiatives pass)," said Jim Campbell in a phone interview with the Deseret News Thursday night.Greg Beesley of the Utah Tax Limitation Coalition, the group behind the tax initiative petition drive, discounted educators' gloomy scenario. "I have never heard of anything so ridiculous. It's too bad that people with educations, such as teachers, would approach a situation like they may be facing with so much emotion."
Campbell, who is attending the National Education Association convention in New Orleans, said the UEA is working hard to beat the tax initiatives and to elect a pro-education governor.
And it sounds as if the UEA's choice for Utah's next chief executive is Democrat Ted Wilson.
Although the UEA won't officially endorse a gubernatorial candidate until August, Campbell said the UEA has interviewed Wilson, Gov. Norm Bangerter and independent Merrill Cook about their stands on education.
Campbell said "the one at the Legislature didn't give teachers much hope," while Cook aligns himself with the tax protesters who view the UEA as the enemy.
That leaves Wilson. Campbell, himself a delegate to the National Republican Convention, stopped short of endorsing Wilson but said "in all likelihood there will be overwhelming support for Ted Wilson."
The UEA was bombarded by phone calls Thursday afternoon following a report that teachers were planning to walk out if the tax initiatives pass.
Campbell denied calling for a strike. But he said his organization, which represents 17,000 Utah teachers, would support a strike if initiated by local teacher associations. He believes that would only happen in the worst-case scenario.
"We are not threatening to have a strike," he said.
Instead, the UEA is urging teachers to work hard to defeat the initiatives, which Campbell said would take another 19.5 percent of education's already-hurting budget. Because teacher salaries are such a large piece of the educational budget, they would have to be cut. That would
mean teachers would be losing their jobs, he said.
"I perceive that we are going to have some rough times. If the initiatives pass, that would put education in jeopardy," Campbell said.
Asked if the initiatives would hurt education, Beesley said it would depend on how educators are able to band together and influence the Legislature as to where the cuts are to be made.
"If they throw up their hands and say, `We quit,' the Legislature may not fund education. Up to this point they've talked only about losing kindergarten. Now the reality (of the initiatives passing) comes closer, I guess they believe they can throw in greater scarce tactics. It won't work. People in Utah are rational people," Beesley said.
He said the tax protesters are not enemies of teachers. "We want to see improvements in education. We have said efficiency is a product of scarcity plus ingenuity. With the tightening up of money, educators may apply some ingenuity and come up with some good, old Deseret solutions."
Campbell said he doesn't believe Utahns will buy the tax protesters' rhetoric, if they realize the devastation the tax initiatives would bring down on education.
He said it's up to the UEA, its members and school districts to show Utahns what would happen to their schools should the initiatives succeed.
In Salt Lake School District, Superintendent John W. Bennion said the district will soon tell its patrons what would happen if the tax initiatives cause millions of dollars to be cut from the district's budget.
Possibilities include the elimination of entire programs and ballooning class sizes. Bennion said it's absurd to think all cuts can come from administration, as some tax protesters have claimed.