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Under the Dome Achive or the Week of February 1, 2010

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February 5, 2010

Educator Day on the Hill
By Ellen Thompson, UEA Vice President

Today’s Educator Day on the Hill was a great success. We ended up with more than 20 people from nine different locals. Many legislators had a chance to talk to teachers first hand. The day started at 7:30 a.m. with a quick overview and then most of the group headed to the Senate Education Committee. Participants listened and also had the opportunity to provide testimony. Everyone then dispersed to speak with their own representatives and senators. We even had two of the teachers from Cache get interviewed by Richard Piatt for KSL-TV.

At the noon debrief, six legislators stopped in to touch base and answer questions. It was nice to get a chance to say thank you to Representatives Laura Black, Marie Poulson, Jim Bird, Johnny Anderson, Rhonda Menlove and Steve Mascaro for their support of education issues. The day ended with attendance at the House Education Committee. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Our next Educator day on the Hill is just a few days away, Wednesday, Feb. 10. Please contact your local president or UniServ director if you will be able to attend. We are hoping to hand deliver retirement information to every member of the House so the more the merrier.


February 5, 2010

New Retirement Bill Introduced

Sen. Liljenquist today introduced SB63: New Public Employees’ Tier II Contributory Retirement Act. This is the third and perhaps most onerous of the senator’s proposed changes to the Utah Retirement Systems. The bill would eliminate the current retirement system for all new hires and replace it with a choice between a defined contribution plan and a greatly reduced hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan. For a comparison of the current and proposed plans, click here.


February 4, 2010

SB77 and More Budget Reviews
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

UEA had a large team at the Capitol today advocating for public education and teachers. The UEA Legislative Team was joined by Susan Firmage and Joel Briscoe from DEA and Bonnie DeSpain, a retired UEA member.

SB77: School District Leave Policies remained on the Senate second reading calendar. Although debate of the bill was expected, other bills and a visit from US Senator Bob Bennett filled in the morning floor time. There have been many, many contacts with senators concerning this bill. In addition to the UEA, superintendents and principals have weighed in, providing information and examples of the negative impacts this bill would have on districts and school employees. The bill may be debated tomorrow.
To send a letter to your legislator expressing concerns about SB77, click here.
The day ended with the fifth Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting. Areas within the Education budget covered today included Fine Arts Outreach, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and Charter Schools. The Utah Education Network also presented. UEN receives its funding through Higher Education Appropriations, but 80 percent of its budget goes toward public education.

On Monday, members of the Subcommittee will bring their individual priorities for funding programs. They will discuss, debate and determine the recommendations to make to Executive Appropriations. New revenue projections for the state of Utah will be received by the Legislature about February 15. After that overall funding plans will begin to form.


February 3, 2010

Legislature Day 8: Budget Issues Dominate
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee held its fourth meeting. The Committee’s Fiscal Analyst recommended FY2011 budgets for the State Office of Education, Science Education Outreach (teacher education programs in various areas of science offered through six public entities…several teachers testified to the quality of these programs in helping educators improve science instruction), Child Nutrition Programs and Educator Licensing. The fee schedule for licenses must be adopted each year by the legislature. Fees are recommended to stay the same in 2011…they have not changed since FY2008. This Committee will meet again Thursday afternoon to complete its initial review of the education budget. Discussions about priorities for funding and where cuts may be made will begin on Monday

HB1 (first substitute): Minimum School Program Base Budget was debated and passed by the House. This is the first formal action taken in the budget process…essential a starting point for discussion. The bill now goes to the Senate for action. Everyday will be a day to work for improved funding above the base budget.

To send a letter to your legislator expressing concerns about the public education budget, click here.

SB77: School District Leave Policies is on the Senate second reading calendar and will most likely be debated Thursday morning. THIS IS THE CRITICAL TIME for local leaders, members, superintendents and local board members to contact Senators and ask them to oppose this bill. SB77 interferes with local control of elected school boards and micromanages the decisions of district administration about what is appropriate, necessary and beneficial a school district with respect to leave time for employees.

To send a letter to your legislator expressing concerns about SB77, click here.


February 3, 2010

PR Campaign Designed to Increase Public Awareness
By Mike Kelley, UEA Director of Communications and Public Relations

This week the UEA kicked off an effort to help the public understand the need to make quality public schools a priority. The goal is to assist the work of UEA’s Legislative Team by encouraging the public to support investments in public education. The campaign’s centerpiece is UtahsFuture.org, a microsite with valuable information and statistics about Utah public education.

Other components of the campaign include:

  • Radio advertisements—The microsite is being promoted with radio ads on 10 stations statewide. (Listens to the Ads: Radio Ad 1 | Radio Ad 2)
  • Lawn signs—“Speak for Tomorrow Today” lawn signs are being distributed to UEA members statewide early next week. If you need a sign, contact your local president.
  • Social media—Become a fan of the UEA on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  • Editorial board meetings—We are meeting with the editorial boards from major local news outlets. So far, we’ve met with the Salt Lake Tribune, the Ogden Standard Examiner and Fox 13…with others to follow.
  • Virtual March to the Capitol—We are asking the public to join us in a ‘virtual march to the capitol’ by writing letters to legislators. Two different options provide the public with simple, step-by-step ways to e-mail or write legislators and encourage them to make quality public schools a priority.

Please encourage your friends, neighbors, family and co-workers to visit UtahsFuture.org, to contact their legislators and to help us Make Quality Public Schools a Priority – Now!


February 2, 2010

House and Senate Education Committees Move Bills
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

The House Education Committee discussed SB16: U-PASS Amendments. This bill expands the use of adaptive online testing in place of CRTs for districts that choose to participate. Supt. Thorne from Sevier School District testified regarding the pilot used there with success. The bill moved from committee for full debate in the House.

The Senate Education Committee again discussed SB77: School District Leave Policies. No amendments were offered to address concerns raised about the bill. It passed out favorably with Sens. Dayton, Bramble and Jenkins voting ‘yes’ and Sens. Morgan and Goodfellow voting ‘no.’ Sens. Stephenson and Hillyard were absent. Contacts to senators from district board members, superintendents and local association members (by e-mail or phone) should be made immediately. Specific areas of concern include:

  1.  This is an issue of local control. Individual districts, following the guidelines and requirements currently in statute, should be allowed to determine what paid and or unpaid leave will be granted to employees and or associations. Districts have reported they believe association leave they approve is necessary and a benefit to them.
  2. The bill is unclear. It refers broadly to associations or unions and will impact employee associations, elementary and secondary principal associations and all manner of other associations including curriculum, speech therapy, athletic, counselors, math teachers, etc.
  3. Activities that require the active participation of employees (such as district committees, state office of education committees and work groups) may be discontinued.

The Senate Education Committee also moved HB42 (first substitute) to the full Senate. This bill allows school districts to extend teacher provisional status to five years. Districts that choose to do so must establish a written policy specifying the circumstances under which provisional status may be extended. The sponsor testified this is intended to give flexibility when extenuating circumstances exist.

Much of the day was spent in one-on-one conversations with senators and representatives about proposals to change the current retirement system. Thanks to Joel Briscoe, UniServ director with the Davis Education Association, who talked with Davis County legislators. Many legislators indicate they are receiving e-mails from educators and other public employees in their districts. These contacts are VERY IMPORTANT (please remember not to send e-mails from your school computers).

Important meetings to follow on Feb. 3 include House debate on HB1: Minimum School Program Base Budget (this bill may be substituted prior to debate) and meeting number four of the Public Education Appropriations Committee.


February 1, 2010

Association Leave Bill Leaves Unanswered Questions
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

The Senate Education Committee met this morning. Sen. Dayton presented SB77: School District Leave Policies. The bill prohibits all paid association or union leave and requires reimbursement for costs for certain unpaid leave including benefits. Sen Dayton’s presentation of the bill clearly reflected that she is focused on our association activity. She stated that it is not fiscally responsible for a district to expend money which could/should be used in the classroom to pay an employee when doing such activity.

Testifying for the bill were Parents for Choice, stating it is wrong to subsidize a private organization with a clear political agenda, and Utah Citizens for Tax Fairness. The Utah School Boards Association testified against the bill saying they believe this is an issue of local control.

UEA Legislative Team member Kory Holdaway asked questions to clarify what are felt to be ambiguities in the bill, specifically asking what associations are intended to be affected by the bill and how are “regular school responsibilities” defined. It became evident there was no clarity around what was meant and what would be prohibited. Several senators indicated concerns that terms were unclear and raised questions. Sen. Dayton, recognizing that passage out of committee might be a problem, made a motion to move to the next item on the agenda. The bill will be back on the next Committee agenda. Stay tuned to see what, if any, revisions will be made to the bill.

The fiscal notes on several bills have now been issued, which will allow the bills to begin to move through the process. We are waiting to see when the Senate Retirement Committee will be scheduled.

Retirement—
At noon, Kory Holdaway met with a subcommittee of the USBA and the Utah School Superintendents Association groups to discuss the retirement bills. Protecting retirement remains the Legislative Team’s top priority.

Ethics—
The House Ethics Committee met and considered five bills and resolutions, all of which passed unanimously and will move to the House for consideration and debate on the floor. There was little discussion with the exception of HJR15 which would create within the State Constitution an Independent Ethics Commission. The concern was that all procedures for operation of the Commission would be established by Legislative rule making and such administrative rules could not be changed through the initiative process. There are also ethics measures being proposed in the Senate.

Budget—
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee had its third meeting this afternoon. It began with Sen. Buttars presenting his “game changing” ideas for changes to the budget to deal with revenue shortages. As the media has reported, elimination of the Twelfth Grade (estimated savings of $120M) and elimination of busing for high school (estimated savings of $15M) are his two proposals. The plan for eliminating grade 12 is unclear but might include taking classes through the Electronic High School or otherwise utilizing the Internet. How busing would be dealt with wasn’t explained in any detail either. Sen. Buttars expressed the need to look for big changes and not just be bound to what education has always done by ‘tradition’. He asked that these ideas be considered and discussed later.

The Fiscal Analyst presented the FY2011 Minimum School Program. The news is not good. Projected growth of 11,044 students will require 13,581 additional WPUs. Funding growth in just the Basic Program would require $35 million. Fully funding growth would require $74.5 million. After reducing some $300 million for current one-time money, which will not be available in 2011, another $101.5 million is to be cut. This would mean decreasing the value of the WPU from $2,577 to $2,464. Reductions have largely been taken in programs not funded on the WPU formulas. This approach is likely to continue along with reducing the WPU value.

Committee discussion around dealing with the FY2011 budget will continue. New revenue figures will be available in mid-February and will weigh heavily in final proposals for next year’s funding.