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Week of March 1, 2010

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Under the Done Archive for the Week of March 1, 2010

 


March 6, 2010

Bill to Give Districts Budget Flexibility Passes House
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

HB295 (first substitute): Expanded Use of School District Property Tax Revenue passed in the House this afternoon on a vote of 74-0 with one absent. For a two-year period, school districts will have the flexibility to shift local capital fund revenues to fund general operations. An amendment offered by Rep. Dunnigan prohibits expenditure of the shifted funds on certain administration costs. The Representative noted these funds should be used in the classroom. Reps. Black, Watkins and Poulson (all former school teachers ) spoke in favor of the bill with Rep. Watkins noting the help this will provide to her constituents in Grand County school district. Rep. Bird, who sponsored the failed HB292 that addressed the difficulties of Jordan District, also spoke in support of HB295. In his summary comments, Rep. Sumsion stated this bill “….is not a silver bullet” and it speaks to local control and local flexibility. He did admonish school districts to use the flexibility wisely. The UEA sees this legislation as important to the stability of programs and staff in these very difficult economic times. The unanimous vote was an infrequent Kumbaya moment. The House adjourned immediately after…it must have been exhausted from all the togetherness.

SB175 (third substitute): School District Capital Outlay Equalization Amendments (B. McAdams) was un-circled and acted on. The bill phases out the Salt Lake County-wide equalization of capital funds that was enacted to deal with the consequences of the Jordan/Canyons district split. That equalization program has been the cause of dissension and acrimony among some Salt Lake County districts. The bill will put Jordan district in a better position, though Jordan will continue to face challenges due to its anticipated enrollment growth and reduced tax base. Sens. Niederhauser and H. Stephenson, whose Senate districts contain the school districts affected by the bill, spoke in favor. Sen. Butters asked questions and expressed concerns about whether Jordan District will really be helped but did vote for the bill, which passed by a wide margin.

SB66: Public School Extracurricular Activities for Home School and Private School Students (Sen. Madsen) passed…this is another version of a bill the Senator has introduced and failed to pass in four prior years. The UEA has no love for this bill. SB188: Charter School Amendments (Sen. H. Stephenson) also passed. The UEA supports portions of this bill and has concerns about other sections. Both will move to the House for consideration there.


March 5, 2010

Budget Bills Loom Large
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team

We started today (March 5) stomping through several inches of snow. Like the postman, weather did not stop 20+ educators from traveling to the Capitol for Educator Day on the Hill, to be briefed on the status of bills and funding and to engage their Representatives and Senators in conversations about the needs of their students and classrooms and the impact of decreased funding. The teachers came from Davis, Jordan, Salt Lake, Box Elder, Ogden and Weber School Districts. UEA president, Kim Campbell and Kory Holdaway talked with the teachers about UEA’s position on specific legislation and the message that the UEA wants to be sure legislators hear on pending bills as well as funding issues. The educators came back together for lunch and shared their experiences as “citizen lobbyists.” They let their legislators know that they are available as a resource to answer questions and provide feedback about how proposed legislation may impact their classrooms.

Today work continues related to the proposed 1 percent cut in the education budget…whether, and if so, how that will be done. Next week we should have answers.

The major effort today was work on House Bill 295 (first substitute): Expanded Use of School District Property Tax Revenue (K. Sumsion). This bill would allow school districts to shift local tax revenue raised for capital purposes (construction, renovations, etc.) to be used for the general operations of the district. This bill is critically important to districts struggling financially (such as Jordan and Grand County) because it would allow them to fund staff and programs that otherwise might be eliminated. The flexibility would be available to all school districts. Concerns have been raised with some legislators related to the Salt Lake County-wide capital equalization that was put in place to assist Jordan District following the split of the District. These concerns may impact the final form of HB295. Rep. Sumsion and Sen. McAdams (who has a bill related to the SLCounty capital equalization) are working to see if compromise can be reached. This is a PRIORITY issue for the UEA.

Monday begins the final week of the 2010 Session, which ends no later than the stroke of midnight on Thursday. Keep checking back online or through a phone call so you are well informed as the race to the finish line continues.


March 5, 2010

Frantic Pace Marks Final Week of Legislature
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team

Thursday (March 4) concluded Committee meetings so all time is now spent in floor debate. That means bills are moving at a faster pace and legislators are getting anxious to make sure their bill or bills are getting heard. Today the House debated Senate bills and vice-versa (for the most part anyway…important bills are moved around and up and down to get them passed as needed. Examples are bills related to revenue, which must be acted on in order for budget decisions to be made, and funding bills drafted and acted upon). Sometimes a controversial bill will take prolonged debate. Other times a number of bills will move rapidly with little or no debate. The length of debate may or may not have anything to do with the actual importance of the bills.

Both House and Senate majority and minority parties caucused at noon. UEA presented information to House Democrats relating to SB77 (first substitute): School District Leave Policies. The Representatives were very supportive of the UEA’s concerns and also supportive of the need to allow locally elected school boards to make decisions on such policies and not have the legislature issue mandates.

The majority caucuses were focused on coming to consensus on what revenues would be raised and what funding allocations would be made for each state agency/department, higher education and public education. The House Republican discussion went on in ‘closed caucus’ for a very long time before some consensus was reached.

Having reached agreement on funding, the Executive Appropriations Committee met in the early evening to act on the proposed funding levels. Most agencies/departments received some additional funding to meet needs in most critical areas. Higher education also received significant and needed additional funding. Budgets for the agencies and Higher Ed were acted on by the Committee. Public education’s budget passed and will be acted on next week. However, public ed. now plays a critical role in the overall budget process because a proposed 1 percent reduction in public ed. is needed to make the rest of the budget proposals work/balance. A reduction of $21 million (1 percent) is proposed. This is still under discussion and there are other clear indications that the Legislature and the Governor are working to take positive action for long-term stability of education funding. Stay tuned, stay alert, stay informed. Know that UEA is working hard to maximize funding and also working very hard to persuade legislators that they have a number of options available to allocate additional one-time revenue to help carry not only public education but other areas through the economic downturn (and to do this without exhausting all reserves, which may be needed next year while recovery is still underway).

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

During the morning and afternoon, the UEA Legislative Team, with the invaluable assistance of Susan Firmage, DEA president, talked with many representatives about SB77: School District Leave Policies. This bill is one that the Association will ‘count’ when assessing legislators’ support on issues tracked by the UEA. We expected the bill to be heard BUT with the long caucus and time spent on other bills, SB77 was still “3 down” on the agenda when the House adjourned for the day. It is unlikely to be heard now until next week as the House will be working on House bills on Friday and probably Monday.


March 3, 2010

Legislature Urged to Help Schools Impacted by District Division, Underfunding
Press Release

Teachers, school staff, parents and others concerned about funding shortfalls, class size increases and layoffs in Jordan School District gathered at the Utah State Capitol today (March 3) to ask legislators for help.

“The growth in Utah’s economy over the past decade has masked the erosion of public education funding sources,” said Utah Education Association President Kim Campbell. “The cumulative effect of changes to Utah tax policies over the past decade has eroded funding by more than $1 billion dollars per year.”

Jordan School District announced it is laying off 500 school employees, including 250 teachers as a result of a $30 million shortfall. Those gathered at the Capitol expressed concerns about the effects of an additional 500 unemployed workers on an already struggling Utah economy and the impact of increasing class sizes by four students and eliminating important educational support services.

Jordan Education Association President Robin Frodge called on the Legislature to pass House Bill 295: Expanded Use of School District Property Tax Revenue, sponsored by Representative Kenneth Sumsion and co-sponsored by many other members of the House.

“(House Bill 295) allows a local school board to use capital funds for maintenance and operation expenditures during the next two fiscal years, beginning with 2010-11,” said Frodge. “This bill could free up as much as $10 million in the Jordan School District – money that may be used to offset class size increases and proposed employee layoffs.”

“Utah’s funding effort, as defined by public education revenues per $1000 in personal income, has fallen from a high of 12th place in the nation to 34th place by 2005,” said Campbell. “This decline has kept us last in the nation in per-pupil spending by an ever-increasing margin. Coinciding with this decline, student enrollment has increased, resulting in the highest student-teacher ratios in the nation by a large and increasing margin.”

Campbell called on “courageous and visionary legislators” to “repair Utah’s broken tax system so Utah’s public schools have a long-term sustainable source of funding.”


March 3, 2010

Flurry of Bills Heard by Education Committee
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

Legislature Day 25 (March 2): The House Education Committee, in a rush to hear as many bills as possible, held a 7 a.m. meeting with an agenda of seven bills. Several of these bills deal with education funding. Specifically:

  1. HB149: School Finance Amendments (Rep. Ron Bigelow). This bill would lift the cap on charter school enrollment but make authorization of new charter schools subject to the legislature first appropriating funding for them. The bill also would allow districts that receive less than $10,000 in funding on small line item programs to combine funds in these programs and use the dollars at their discretion on one, some or all of the programs. UEA supports this bill and it passed out favorably.
  2. HB137: Public School Funding (Rep. Wayne Harper). This bill would increase sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent and dedicate that revenue to education distributed on the WPU. The bill however is basically revenue neutral because it freezes property tax until Dec. 2011, at which time districts would be able to raise property taxes by going through the ‘Truth in Taxation’ process. This is a controversial proposal. Many (like the Utah Taxpayers Association) oppose the shift of school funding from property tax to sales tax. Others oppose it because they believe that sales tax is more volatile and subject to economic conditions than property tax. The bill passed out on a close vote and will be forwarded to the full House. UEA supports moving the bill forward for further consideration, feeling all avenues to improved education funding should at least be explored. We do, however, have concerns about this proposal.
  3. HB295 (first substitute): Expanded Uses of School District Property Tax Revenue (Rep. Ken Sumsion). This bill was originally sponsored by Rep. Painter but he allowed it to be substituted by Rep. Sumsion. Rep. Watkins also has a similar bill, however, she graciously let Rep. Sumsion move his bill, not caring who would get credit if something positive could be done for school funding. Reps. Painter and Watkins should be thanked by their teacher constituents. This bill allows school districts to utilize local property tax dollars raised for capital purposes (construction of new buildings, renovations, etc.) for operational purposes. It provides a great deal of flexibility in these difficult times. Jordan District would have an estimated $10-14 million, a portion of which could be used to maintain employee positions, hold down class sizes, etc. The bill would allow this for two years and then be reviewed. Districts would use these funds with caution but could address their most pressing needs. The bill had strong support in the Committee. Representatives need to be contacted and asked to support the bill when it is debated by the full House.

 

This was the last meeting of the House Education Committee. It is a hard working committee. An e-mail of thanks from those of you who have a representative on the committee would no doubt be appreciated by them.

The Senate Education Committee holds its final meeting Wednesday morning (March 3). There are no bills on the agenda being tracked by UEA.

Wednesday morning is the last of committee meetings. After that, all time will be devoted to floor debate.

The Executive Appropriations Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon was cancelled. It seems consensus on what will be funded and what the sources of that funding will be is still being hammered out by majority leadership and others. Contact the Governor’s office to thank him for ‘holding tough’ on his budget proposal to fund public education at no less than the current year.


March 2, 2010

School Privatization Alive and Well
By Kim Campbell, UEA President

For those of you who may be thinking that the privatization (voucher) movement is dead, just put that out of your mind. Today in the Senate, Sen. Stephenson tried to amend Sen. Morgan’s SB150: Reading Requirements for Student Advancement to provide a “stipend” to parents of students needing remediation. Parents could then take this stipend to any service provider. The fiscal note for his amendment would have been over $8 million. In debate on the amendment, Sen. Stephenson made a point of mentioning the fact that districts already have money for remediation (from the K-3 reading line item) so his amendment would not even need to be funded. Districts could just use their own remediation money. Sen. Morgan objected to the amendment and a lively debate followed. Sen. Pat Jones stated, “We don’t have enough funding for growth. It is disingenuous that we would put an amendment in place without any funding.” The amendment failed.

Wednesday will be a big day with Jordan educators on the Hill to promote a bill by Rep. Sumsion, HB295: Expanded Uses of School District Property Tax Revenue, that will allow a local school board to use capital funds for maintenance and operation expenses during the next two fiscal years. We will also continue talking to legislators about the need for a long-term view of education funding.

We will be holding a press conference on Capitol Hill at 11 a.m. Wednesday (March 3) in the Hall of Governors, First Floor, to support fixes for public education funding problems not only in Jordan District, but the entire state.


March 2, 2010

Two Retirement Bills Forwarded to Governor, Two Others Killed
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

Monday (March 1) was active with morning and afternoon committees as well as two sessions of floor debate.

In the Senate, the retirement bills (SB43 (third substitute): Post-retirement Employment Amendments and SB63 (third substitute): New Public Employees’ Tier II Contributory Retirement Act) were brought up for ‘Concurrence’, which means asking the Senate to agree with the amendments made in the House on Friday. The sponsor presented the changes and responded to questions following which the Senate voted to concur. The votes of individual members of both the House and Senate on these bills is available on the Legislative website for each bill (links above). The bills will now be sent to the Governor for signature. SB94 (which would have eliminated the 1.5 percent 401(k) contribution for employees hired after July 1, 1986) had remained circled in the Senate without further action. It was brought up by the sponsor and the ‘enacting clause was struck’…that’s legislative talk for killing it deader than dead. Same for SB42, which would have extended the service years required for retirement for current employees.

SB150: Reading Requirements for Student Advancement was presented and passed on Second Reading in the Senate. This bill is not without controversy (see posting above) and several Senators indicated intent to offer amendments when the bill is heard on Tuesday. UEA has supported this bill because it focuses on struggling readers in grades 1-3 by engaging their parents with the school in providing interventions to help the student progress to reading on grade level. Although the bill provides for retaining students who don’t meet minimum standards, it provides exemptions for those with IEPs or 504 plans. It allows a student to be advanced on request of the parents and agreement of the principal. Parents are notified mid-year if there is any chance their student may not advance and a student may demonstrate grade level reading ability until Aug. 15 and still be advanced. Research on retention is generally not positive. Research on those who cannot read at grade level by third grade is also discouraging. We have heard from educators on both sides of this debate. With the ‘safety nets’ contained in the bill we feel it has potential to help students make progress and build a base for future academic success.

SB119: Special Election Modifications by Sen. Howard Stephenson was heard by the House Government Operations Committee. This bill would limit school districts in determining when bond and voted leeway elections can be held and would have required a unanimous vote of the board in order to hold a leeway election in June. UEA as well as School Boards and Superintendents oppose this bill because it creates inflexibility for local boards of education. Requiring a unanimous vote would mean that one board member could subvert the will of the majority of the board. Also in these difficult financial times for school districts, it might prohibit districts in financial crisis from timely seeking a vote of their communities on school funding proposals. The committee amended the bill to provide for a 2/3rds vote by the board. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.