By Irinna Schwenke
With the threat of a statewide teacher’s strike looming over the heads of the Legislature’s Funding of Public Education Task Force, task force officials see no way to avoid the drastic action.
Phyllis Sorensen, president of Utah Education Association, said she is tired of broken promises and guarantees that a statewide action will take place if the task force fails to create a long-term education-funding plan.
“They shall make a final report by Nov. 30. If they do nothing, it cannot go unchallenged,” Sorensen said.
One task force official is hesitant to say whether or not a teacher’s strike is avoidable.
“I don’t think we can give them the long-term guarantees that they want. A bill can be changed with the change of the legislature. This makes it hard for us to promise that a long-term education funding plan will stay in affect for at least 10 years,” said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, Utah, task force co-chair.
The task force does not feel threatened to amend their procedures because of a threatened strike, and will deliver a recommendation, Hillyard said.
“The UEA goes straight to the media before consulting with the task force. They hype the situation up to make us look like we’re not doing anything,” he said. “We’ll do our work, and I don’t think a threat will change what we’re doing.”
Money for education can be found in other areas, but UEA officials are quick to point fingers at the state, Hillyard said.
Local school boards can raise property taxes to get additional funds but usually the boards do not do this because people may get mad, he said.
“Well, guess what, if we raise sales taxes, people will get mad at us too,” Hillyard said.
Sorensen said, UEA officials are tired of fighting the battle for increased educational funding every year and feel the task force is a waste of time.
The creation of this task force and the commitment of additional educational funding for the 2000-2001 school year kept educators from a strike last March, Sorensen said.
“If they can make a long term funding plan for roads and the Olympics, surely they can make one for education,” she said.
Local school officials see the decision to strike as a teacher’s choice and will respond to the situation as it develops, said Michael Robinson, public information officer for the Alpine School District.
“We would like to see more money in education. Whether or not a strike is the answer will have to be seen,” he said.
Robinson said promoting a teacher’s strike would advocate breaking teacher contracts.
“From a district administration’s point of view, a strike would not be very beneficial, but if that’s what it’ll take to get more money in schools, that is what needs to be done,” Robinson said.