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Legislative Action Averts Teachers' Strike in Utah

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Utah teachers last week backed away from their threat of a statewide strike after the legislature passed a package of pay raises and education-funding increases by a razor-thin margin in the final hours before its adjournment deadline.

The board of directors of the Utah Education Association, whose members were on strike alert all last week, accepted the plan at the 11th hour. But the union remained on alert until its 16,000 members could vote on it.

Uea leaders had been considering a strike since early in the legislative session. The chief issues were teacher compensation and overall legislative commitment to improving education.

The uea led a one-day walkout last September after legislators4chose to use a state-budget surplus to cut taxes rather than increase funding for education. (See Education Week, Oct. 4, 1989.)

The legislative package, passed by a 38-to-37 vote in the House on Feb. 20 and a 15-to-14 vote in the Senate on Feb. 21, includes the following:

A $1,000 net pay raise for all teachers, which amounts to an average 4.3 percent increase.

A 4 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit used for allocation of state funds to local districts, which can use the additional money to negotiate further pay increases.

A 2 percent increase for teacher-salary-schedule "lane changes," or additional degrees.

A five-year plan for considering education a long-term priority.

A measure that gives local8school boards the ability to approve property-tax increases of up to 2 mills to finance class-size reductions.

"We are not elated with what has been done for education here, but we are heartened by it," James Campbell, president of the uea, said in a statement soon after adjournment.

Mr. Campbell noted that the uea had sought a 5 percent hike in the weighted pupil unit and a $2,000 across-the-board teacher increase.

The package approved by lawmakers would produce an estimated total raise averaging more than 6 percent.

"That is not enough to make up for the losses teachers have suffered over the last three years," he said. "But it is a start, an important start toward bringing teachers' salaries back to at least the national average."

Teachers voted overwhelmingly Feb. 16 to authorize a strike, but Mr. Campbell recommended approval of a package offered by Gov. Norman H. Bangerter and the Republican legislative leadership. The uea board rejected the offer following a protracted meeting on Feb. 17.

Francine Giani, a spokesman for Governor Bangerter, said the package finally accepted by the uea leadership was "basically the same" as the one offered several days earlier.

The uea's decision not to strike drew criticism from the leader of the rival American Federation of Teachers Utah Project, whose 1,000 members staged a largely unsuccessful walkout of their own last week.

"They caved in," said Ken Zenger. "We think the uea was looking for an excuse not to have a strike."--mw

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