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Week of March 8, 2010

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Under the Dome Archive for the Week of March 8, 2010
 


March 12, 2010

2010 Legislative Summary

Please unbuckle your seatbelts and exit to the right. The 2010 Legislature roller coaster ride is over.

“Given the economic circumstances and issues we faced from day one of the legislative session, public education and educators fared remarkably well in the end,” said UEA Executive Director Mark Mickelsen. “I am especially pleased that teachers in the Jordan School District received a lifeline that may help them avert painful layoffs this spring.”

Many legislators and others attributed the outcomes for public education on the hundreds of e-mails, letters and personal contacts received from teachers and parents. Especially helpful and successful were the personal contacts with legislators made during UEA’s six Educator Day on the Hill activities. More than 100 educators participated this year.

The session was marked by tough battles over state employee retirement benefits, association leave rules, and a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall that threatened to compound Utah’s already tenuous public education funding situation.

 “We understand that growing the economy is the No. 1 issue for all of us and…long-term sustained growth requires education,” remarked Gov. Gary Herbert in concluding comments to legislators at the close of the session. “I hope you’re hearing the accolades and the…appreciation from people in the education world. I’ve received handwritten notes from the UEA…and others that have said ‘thank you’ for making tough choices but doing it appropriately (for education).”

UEA President Kim Campbell said, “the goal expressed by the governor, legislative leadership, and the Democratic minority was to hold public education to last year’s funding levels. In this tough economic climate, although there were cuts and growth wasn’t funded, they came very close to reaching their goal in the overall budget. The fact that public education received ongoing money will help avoid a disastrous funding cliff in next year’s budget. We thank our legislators and Governor Herbert for their hard work and support of public education.”

“If I could have changed one thing about this legislative session, it would be more focus on long-term, sustainable public education funding,” noted Campbell.

Here are a few highlights from the 2010 Legislative Session:

Budget—

The Governor and majority party legislative leaders worked to trim a proposed $21 million cut to public education to about a $9 million reduction from last year’s budget. However, there is no new funding to educate an estimated 11,000 new students expected next year. The net result is a cut of about 3 percent, far less than reductions faced by many other departments and agencies.

The public education cuts will come largely from funds for new school buildings and a 50 percent cut to teacher-directed supply money, with additional reductions to be determined by local school boards. At the last minute, lawmakers found money to help pay for new school library books. A last-minute attempt to insert charter school funding changes and eliminate association leave pay (see below) failed.

The WPU will remain at $2,577 despite no funding for the additional 11,000 students. School districts must absorb those costs in other areas.

A major change in the education budget proposal is a shift from one-time to ongoing money. During the downturn in the economy, one-time rainy day and federal stimulus money was used to fill budget shortfalls. In the new FY2011 budget, lawmakers and the governor agreed to replace most of the one-time money with ongoing funds.

“The change from one-time to ongoing funding is a huge win for public education,” said UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway. “Without this change we would have faced a major funding cliff in future years.”

Retirement—

Two major bills dealing with the Utah Retirement Systems passed during the 2010 General Legislative Session.SB43 (third substitute): Post-retirement Employment Amendments and SB63 (third substitute): New Public Employees’ Tier II Contributory Retirement Act passed the Legislature on March 1 and are awaiting the Governor’s signature. While the UEA still believes the state would have been better served by allowing a year to study these issues and develop alternative solutions, these bills are much improved from their original form.

The bills were improved, in large part, because of the hundreds of letters, e-mails and personal contacts with legislators. The UEA Legislative team extends its thanks to everyone who helped in sharing concerns with legislators, especially members of the newly-formed retirement coalition (UEA, Utah School Employees Association, Utah Public Employees’ Association, and Fraternal Order of Police), 4,000 of whomgathered on the steps of the Capitol February 6 to protest cuts to public employee retirement benefits.

Contacts with legislators also helped stop two additional bills that would negatively impact retirement benefits for current employees. SB42 would have extended the years of service required for retirement and SB94 would have eliminated the 1.5 percent employer 401(k) contribution state employees currently receive.

For those working in education, here’s what SB43 and SB63 will do:

Current Employees: All retirement benefits, including years-of-service requirements, three-year highest salary averaging and the 2 percent multiplier for each year of service, remain just as they are now for all employees hired prior to July 1, 2011.

Current Retirees: Neither bill affects pension payout, COLA increases or any other aspect of current retiree benefits. If you have retired from the URS and returned to work in an entity participating in the URS, the new law removes the requirement that an employer contribute to an employee 401(k).  After July 1, 2010, employers may continue to contribute to the rehired employee’s 401(k), but only up to the “normal cost,” which will be 11.87 percent, about 2 percent less than the current contribution rate.

Retirees Who Return to Employment: SB43 applies to anyone who retires from the Utah Retirement Systems after July 1, 2010, and returns to work with any entity participating in the URS. It requires a retired employee to wait one full year before returning to employment with a state agency. A teacher who retired would have two options upon being rehired:

  1. Stop receiving a pension payment and earn another 2 percent towards retirement per year upon ultimate retirement.
  2. Receive a monthly pension payment after sitting out a full year before returning to work. There would be no replacement contribution to the employee’s 401(k) as is currently the practice.

New Employees: SB63 applies to public employees hired after July 1, 2011. Upon hiring, new employees will elect one of two retirement benefit options:

  1. Defined Contribution: 10 percent of the employee’s salary will be placed in a 401(k)-type defined contribution plan for the employee.
  2. Hybrid Defined Contribution/Defined Benefit: About 7.75 percent of the employee’s salary will fund a defined benefit plan paying 1.5 percent of salary for each year of service based on a 5-year final average salary. Employees would be required to have 35 years in the system or reach age 65 to qualify. An additional 2.25 percent of salary (for a maximum total of 10 percent) would be contributed to a 401(k) plan. Under the hybrid option, if the required defined benefit funding rate exceeds 7.75 percent, additional funding first comes off the 2.25 percent 401(k) contribution. If the amount exceeds 10 percent of salary, the employee pays the difference.

Both plans would have a four-year vesting period, meaning the employee must work four years to get any benefit at all.

Other Bills of Note—

HB4: Current School Year Supplemental Minimum School Program Budget (Supported by UEA, Passed)
This bill, passed early in the session, appropriated supplemental funds to hold public education harmless for the current fiscal year (FY2010). This bill was significant in that it spared public education from significant cuts like those required of other state agencies and departments.

HB246: Retirement Benefits for Charter School Employees (Supported by UEA, Passed)
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Christine Watkins, allows a charter school employee, a charter school, or an employee and a school jointly to purchase service credit within the Utah Retirement Systems equal to the period of the employee’s employment in a charter school located within the state.

HB268: Public School Innovations (Opposed by UEA, Failed)
This bill would have allowed a school or group of schools within a school district to create an innovation plan and adopt the plan with approval of the district school board and the State Board of Education. UEA opposed this bill because it would have allowed schools to exempt themselves from certain laws, including orderly termination, and to unilaterally remove themselves from negotiated employment agreements.

HB295: Expanded Use of School District Property Tax Revenue and
SB175: School District Capital Outlay Equalization Amendments (Supported by UEA, Passed)
These bills give school districts, for a two-year period, the flexibility to shift local capital fund revenues to fund general operations. SB175 phases out the property tax funding equalization for Salt Lake County over a five-year period. The bills are expected to give school districts, especially those in extreme financial difficulty such as Jordan and Grand County, added flexibility in dealing with the current economic conditions.

SB16: Utah Performance Assessment System for Students Amendments (Supported by UEA, Passed)
This bill expands the use of adaptive online testing in place of CRTs for districts that choose to participate.

SB77 (first substitute): School District Leave Policies (Opposed by UEA, Failed)
This bill, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton, would have prohibited all paid association or union leave and required reimbursement for costs for certain unpaid leave including benefits. Parents for Choice, the Utah Taxpayers Association and Utah Citizens for Tax Fairness supported the bill. The UEA and Utah School Boards Association testified against it. The bill ultimately failed in the House on a vote of 25-43 with 7 absent. Several Representatives spoke against the bill including Reps. Black, Gowans, Powell, Mascaro, Moss, McIff and Watkins. Those against the bill primarily argued association leave was an issue of local control, better left to elected school boards. Sen. Dayton attempted to amend the school funding bill to include the SB77 provisions, but her efforts were defeated in the Senate.

SB147: Education Related Parent Organizations (Opposed by UEA, Failed)
This bill would have barred the PTA from appointing a representative to the investment advisory committee for the investment of Land Grant Trust Fund money. The irony is that Utah may not have had school trust land money without the efforts of the PTA.

SB150: Reading Requirements for Student Advancement (Supported by UEA, Passed)
This bill requires a school district or charter school to provide notice to a parent of a student in the first, second, or third grade if the student is reading below grade level and of available reading interventions available through the school district or charter school. It also requires a school district or charter school to provide appropriate reading remediation. A provision to retain students in grades 1-3 reading below grade level was eliminated.

SB275: Removing Signature from Initiative and Referendum Petition (Opposed by UEA, Passed)
This bill repeals the requirement that a voter must submit a notarized statement in order to have their name removed from an initiative or referendum petition. It also allows extra time from the date a petition is submitted until it is certified. The bill will, in effect, make it much easier for opponents to nullify a successful initiative or referendum.


March 10, 2010

Pace Picks Up in a Big Way

By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

The pace picked up in a big way today (March 10)…lots of things still to be accomplished before the close of the session. The biggest ‘not yet done’ legislation for Education was thepublic education funding bill. Although it wasreported that the decisions had been made, some opportunity for additional dollars and possible reallocation of money was still being discussed. More about this later.

The Legislative Team, including UEA Vice President Ellen Thompson, met early to brief a group of teachers who came to the Capitol from Granite, Davis, Box Elder and Jordan Districts as part of Educator Day on the Hill. They were briefed on the details of recently passed retirement legislation, the status of funding and on bills of interest still pending. The teachers spent their time talking with legislators in whose districts they live as well as those who represent the area where their schools are located. They also left messages for the Governor at his office in the Capitol building. They were energetic and articulate and had the opportunity to thank legislators for the priority given to public education in the budget process…lots of smiles all around and legislators seemed very appreciative in return. The teachers and the UEA Team gathered back together at lunchtime to share what they had learned and what they had heard. Thanks to Carol Cremer from the UEA staff and the UniServ directors from DEA for being there to lend support. Kudos to Ellen Thompson for organizing all the Educator on the Hill Days that took place this legislative session. UEA Executive Director Mark Mickelsen also joined the team. It was a ‘full court press’ day.

Many bills were heard in each body. Examples of bills being tracked by the UEA include:

  1. SB66: Public School Extracurricular Activities for Home School and Private School Students (Sen. Madsen) was debated, amended and passed in the House and will be sent back to the Senate for concurrence. An amendment by Rep. Sheryl Allen passed on a ‘nail biting’ vote. UEA supported the amendment.
  2. HB117: Public Education Capital Outlay Act, which changes the distribution formula for capital outlay funds from the state, was passed in the Senate. This was among the priority bills of the School Boards Association and superintendents.
  3. UEA worked with the PTA on one of its priority bills, SB147: Education Related Parent Organizations, relating to the Land Grant Trust Fund Investment Advisory Committee. The bill will likely be heard on Thursday morning. UEA and PTA have many common interests/concerns on which the groups collaborate.

The Executive Appropriations Committee met in the late morning and took action on a series of additional funding items and adopted ‘intent language’ involving a number of departments. Public education funding items discussed included the $21 million in reductions, which have already been recounted, and approximately $11 million in add backs (one-time money) allocated to teacher-directed classroom supplies ($5 million) and transportation ($6.3 million). Rep. Dave Litvak, Democratic minority leader proposed an amendment that would have reinstated $500,000 for library books and electronic equipment and another $1 million for classroom supplies. This amendment passed among House members on the Committee but failed among Senators with Republicans voting no. The dollars for these additions were dependent on a bill that had not yet passed the Senate. There remains a chance for some version of this change to happen. Thanks to Rep. Litvak for his effort to continue looking for ways to improve resources for our schools. (The bill, HB166: Elimination of Education Mandates, sponsored by Rep. Dougall, did pass the Senate later in the day.)

More nail biters and even some fun: The end of the day was spent in the Senate, which took up SB2: Minimum School Program and Public Education Budget Amendments. Sen. Howard Stephenson presented the bill, noting the bill is an addition to the base budget bill passed early in the Session. The bill contains $294.3 million in add backs most all of which is ongoing dollars ($11.9 million is one-time). This demonstrates the priority that was placed on public education. Within the context of what funds the Legislature and Governor agreed would be available this year, public education fared very well…in fact the best of any agency and higher education. All in the education community have to be grateful for this and for the stability in funding this result promises for next year.

Sen. Morgan offered an amendment to SB2 that would have reallocated funds within the proposed budget, reducing a very large on-going add back for the Critical Languages program and reallocating those dollars to library books and the K-3 Reading Improvement program. She argued forcefully for the need to restore these programs. Sen. Stephenson resisted just as forcefully. When the vote was taken, the amendment failed but it was oooooh so very close, failing on a 14-14 tie.

Sen. Romero then offered an amendment to reduce on-going funding for ELL software and reinstating funding to at-risk youth programs and ELL Family Centers. He argued forcefully for the need to focus on some of our most vulnerable students. Sen. Stephenson again resisted forcefully and the amendment failed on a voice vote.

Sen. Dayton then offered an amendment that would have inserted the language of her failed SB77: School District Leave Policies (chronicled often in earlier reports). This could be seen as determination and persistence or it might be seen as nothing more than punitive and outright refusal to step back from what the majority in the House saw as an unworthy piece of legislation. With Sen. Stephenson this time strongly supporting the amendment along with 10 colleagues, the amendment failed on a standing vote of 10 ‘for’ to 12 ‘no’. Thanks to those who saw this amendment as inappropriate for the public education funding bill.
Thursday (March 11) is the 45th and final day. The House has 40+ bills on its calendar as does the Senate with many more waiting in the wings. We are still tracking many issues and very importantly the House action on SB2.


March 9, 2010

Budget, Association Leave Focus of Day Forty Three

By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

Three days to go and counting…Today (March 9) was consumed with work on 2 primary issues:

1.  SB77 (first substitute): School District Leave Policies. This bill, which began its way through the process early in the session, sat stalled on the Senate calendar for almost three weeks before it moved into the final step yesterday when it was placed on the House calendar. This morning it was item seven on the list of Senate bills to be considered by the House. At about 11:15 a.m. floor debate began. The House sponsor of the bill was Rep. Keith Grover. Grover is a secondary school administrator in the Alpine School District, however, he is not friendly to the Association or, for the most part, to the positions taken by the education community on most legislative bills (Rep. Grover was one of the unexpected deciding ‘YES’ votes in 2007 when the infamous voucher bill was passed).

    Floor debate continued for an hour. Although the bill refers only to ‘employee associations,’ which were defined in a way that would include the elementary and secondary principals’ associations, the classified school employees, speech therapist associations, counselors associations, the local education associations as well as other teacher organizations, etc., etc., the debate clearly focused on the UEA. The bill was unclear in what was intended to be prohibited and who and what activities local districts would be prohibited from allowing paid leave for. A number of Representatives rose to ask clarifying questions. The sponsor’s answers created more questions…the confusion and ambiguity of the bill was apparent. Rep. Powell was effective in asking questions and attempting to clarify the bill as was Rep. Gowans. Reps. Black, Poulson, Moss and Watkins (all educators…Reps. Black and Watkins work with local associations) spoke to oppose the bill. Rep. Poulson noted a similar bill was heard by the House Education Committee last year and failed to pass out of the committee. Rep. Mascaro opposed the bill because this was a local issue for elected boards of education to determine, noting the Legislature fights impositions of mandates from the Federal government, why should the state impose this mandate on local school districts. Rep. McIff noted he could not support the bill because he had spoken to three superintendents in his area for whom the bill would be a major problem. Reps. Wright, Sumsion, andHerrod spoke in favor of the bill. Rep. Kerry Gibson offered an amendment that referred only to teachers (none of the other affected employee associations) and attempted to define which activities would and would not be open to paid leave. The amendment, which further confused the bill, passed.

    Rep. Grover made his summation. The vote was taken and the bill FAILED on a vote of 25 ‘for’ to 43 ‘against’, with seven absent. A substantial defeat.

    Please send an e-mail or send a personal note to express appreciation to those who saw the flaws in the bill and supported the School Boards Assoc., Superintendents Assoc. and the UEA and local associations’ position of opposition. Superintendents were very helpful in communicating with Representatives from their areas about why this bill was unnecessary and why it was an issue of local control. Please thank your superintendents.

2.  The Public Education budget continued to be the subject of discussion for both parties in both the House and Senate. House Democrats and Republicans caucused over the noon hour the majority party spending a lengthy time debating what should be done regarding the proposed $21 million (1 percent) reduction in school funding. When the day ended, the funding bill for Public Ed had still not been printed and the scheduled Executive Appropriations Committee meeting to approve a proposed budget was cancelled. It is likely the bill will be printed and available tomorrow. It will be SB2: Minimum School Program Budget Amendments if you want to look for it online. (See the March 10 Salt Lake Tribune article for more information.)

Many bills are being debated. For exampleHB166, which eliminates a number of education mandates and had passed the House, was debated in the Senate where the change in funded bus routes from two miles to and from school to three miles was deleted. It will be returned to the House tomorrow. HB143 and HB324, which deal with the School Lands issues and dollars that might be raised from them, were debated and amended in the Senate and will also be returned to the House tomorrow. We are still waiting for HB295 and SB175, which allow local school districts flexibility in use of their local capital levy dollars, to reach the House and Senate calendars. Much is still to come, so be certain to check Under the Dome each night.


March 9, 2010

Association Leave Bill Fails in the House

After a lively debate lasting more than an hour, SB77: School District Leave Policies failed in the House on a vote of 25-43 with 7 absent. Several Representatives spoke against the bill including Reps. Black, Gowans, Powell, Mascaro, Moss, McIff and Watkins. The bill, which was strongly opposed by the UEA, would have prohibited school districts from granting paid leave for certain association duties. Those against the bill primarily argued association leave was an issue of local control, better left to elected school boards.


March 9, 2010

In Search of a Long-Term View for Public Education Funding

By Kim Campbell, UEA President

Over the weekend, the UEA Board and the UEA Council of Local Presidents met and were updated on the Legislative Session. Both groups talked of the necessity of a long-term plan for public education. The“Speak for Tomorrow Today” campaign is the beginning of that effort. Simply put, the campaign answers the following questions and advances a proactive public education agenda:

    1) What do ALL Utah’s children need to be prepared for life and to be successful in the 21st Century?

        a. Answer: A system of excellence, with small class sizes to ensure individualized attention, up-to-date technology and a broad rich curriculum to meets the needs of a variety of students. They need a curriculum rich in communication, innovation and critical thinking skills and they need a quality teacher in every classroom. In order for that to happen, we must invest in system that attracts and retains quality educators and allows those educators to use professional judgment and creativity to best meet the needs of students.

    2) How do we make that happen?

        a. Answer: We must repair Utah’s tax structure, renew our commitment to our public schools and take a long-term view with Utah’s policy decisions. (For more information on how changes to Utah’s tax structure has eroded our ability to invest in our public schools, see the Utahns for Public Schools tax reports.)

    3) Why is that important to Utah’s future?

        a. Answer: Everything we ever hope for as Utahns is dependent on the schoolchildren sitting in our classrooms today. Investing in education not only prepares our children for the future, it is an investment in Utah’s economy. Education is an economic recovery engine. Investing in education provides more jobs than an investment in any other sector of the economy and assures an educated workforce that will attract business to the state. In addition, school districts are large—sometimes the largest—employers in every community in the state, stabilizing local economies and contributing to the success of small businesses. Please find out more at UtahsFuture.org and join our virtual march to the Capitol to ask legislators to think long-term and to renew our commitment to our neighborhood public schools.

We want policymakers to think long-term. This framework is the UEA’s way of putting forward an agenda for our public schools and then working to make it a reality. It won’t happen overnight, but the current funding crisis should be a call to action for all educators.

Jordan’s crisis is symptomatic of much larger problems concerning funding that affect every educator and every public school in the state. At last week’s press conference, we encouraged legislators to help with some short-term patches for districts like Jordan and Grand AND to consider long-term fixes for Utah’s structural problems concerning public education funding. Now we have to make it possible for them to do the right things. Thanks to all who attended the Jordan Day on the Hill last Wednesday and promoted HB295 (second substitute): Expanded Uses of School District Property Tax Revenue. I don’t remember the last time I saw a bill dealing with a controversial issue like funding flexibility pass a legislative body unanimously. As of Monday evening, it is still in Rules, so call or e-mail your Senator and encourage him/her to ask for the release of HB295 from Rules and then vote for it when it comes before the Senate.
Another note, Rep. Hutchings received special permission to open a bill file and brought HB463: Divided School District Property Tax Amendments to the House. This bill provides for some headroom in the board leeway in districts experiencing a division. The bill passed the House late Monday afternoon. More to come on this. Those of you outside Jordan and Grand, please assist your colleagues on these very important short-term items and keep talking about long-term solutions. Stay tuned and thank you for being involved.


March 8, 2010

The Final Week Begins

By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

The final week…one day down and three to go! It usually doesn’t seem possible that the Legislative Session is nearing its final adjournment…too much still unsettled and too many bills still to be heard. This Session though feels different. It actually appears there isn’t enough business left to take up the remaining three days. Traditionally this day is the last day for the House to consider House bills and the Senate to consider Senate bills…then each body turns to the bills that have already passed the other. Of course, there are multiple exceptions done under ‘suspension of the rules’ and members are jockeying to have their bills reach the floor calendar to debate. For your UEA Legislative Team and all the other lobbyists, it’s a bit like being air traffic controllers at a major airport watching blips appear on the screen, move around and disappear.

Today the House completed all the House bills on its calendar by late afternoon. The Senate pressed on to complete its bills but also finished relatively early. Tomorrow the House will begin debate of the Senate bills that the Senate has prioritized…this includesSB77 (first substitute): School District Leave Policies. This is an important bill for the Association and other employee groups.

The House is expected to begin with debate of HB2, the major funding bill for all agencies and Higher Education so it can be moved to the Senate for debate and final passage.

Both the House caucuses met at noon. Jay Blain, UEA Director of Policy and Research, covered the Republican meeting for UEA where the proposed 1 percent cut in the public education budget was explained in more detail and discussed by the members. I covered the Democratic meeting. Sen. Morgan presentedSB150: Reading Requirements for Student Advancement (the “Reading at Grade Level” bill). There were many questions and it was clear that some caucus members have concerns about the bill. This is also true in the education community. Voices for Utah Children and the KSL Editorial Board have endorsed the bill. SB150 was not included in the first group of Senate bills placed on the House calendar so it is unlikely to come up tomorrow. Democrats also discussed the proposed Education budget. They expressed concerns about the 1 percent cut on top of unfunded enrollment growth and will advocate for limiting the cut particularly in certain line items and program areas.

UEA President Kim Campbell, Executive Director Mark Mickelsen, Kory Holdaway, Jay Blain and Susan Kuziak met with Governor Herbert, Lt. Governor Greg Bell and the Governor’s Budget Director John Nixon. The focus of discussion was public education funding. What the final result will be isn’t clear yet.
The Public Education funding bill will likely be issued tomorrow. Check “Under the Dome” for detailed information. It’s not too late to contact your Representative and Senator to thank them for prioritizing education and ask them to keep working to the end for our schools and students.