A bill that would prohibit school districts from paying the salaries of teachers who leave the classroom to engage in union activities cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.
Several Utah school districts now pay a portion of their local union presidents' salaries even though they no longer teach, and the union pays the rest of their salaries according to contract agreements. Sen. Margaret Dayton's bill, SB77, would prohibit districts from paying those on association leave and require that if a teacher or employee leaves "regular school responsibilities" for association or union duties that the employee, association or union reimburse the district for that time.
Dayton said the bill is about "keeping taxpayer dollars allocated for education in the classroom."
Others, however, opposed the bill, saying the decision should be left up to local districts. Local union presidents have said that many of their duties, such as representing teachers on district committees and resolving conflicts, benefit both the union and the district.
"The functions [they] carry out are things the district would have to have people do or reassign staff to do," said Susan Kuziak, of the Utah Education Association.
The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 3-2. Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake City, voted against it, saying the current wording is too broad, leaving questions about whether the bill would apply to all types of professional associations or just unions. Also, some lawmakers wondered what would qualify as "regular school responsibilities."
The bill follows a recent legislative audit that showed some districts don't monitor how teachers on paid association leave spend their time or define which activities benefit unions versus the district. Dayton worked with Parents for Choice in Education to create the bill.