Some lawmakers want to make sure school districts don't pay teachers on leave from the classroom for union duties.
The House Education Committee voted Wednesday to advance HB183, which would prohibit districts from paying teachers on union leave when they perform duties that don't directly benefit the district. The bill would also require teachers or unions to reimburse districts for unpaid association leaves of more than 10 days.
"The issue is transparency. The issue is ethics," said bill sponsor Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, an assistant principal at Oak Canyon Junior High. He said he doesn't have a problem with teachers unions, but he doesn't want to see taxpayer dollars go toward union activities.
Now, three Utah districts, Salt Lake, Granite and Davis, pay a portion of their local union presidents' salaries even though they're on leave from teaching, and the union pays the rest of their salaries according to contract agreements.
One of those local leaders, Davis Education Association president Susan Firmage, told committee members Wednesday that all of her activities during the day are for the district, and her association meetings take place after school. She said she serves as a voice for teachers on a number of district committees that teachers might not otherwise be able to attend because they're in class.
"I'm released from the classroom ... because of the size of the district, and because the local school board and superintendent sees the value of having a teacher fulfilling these full-time activities as a voice for teachers," Firmage said. Half of Firmage's salary is paid by the union and half by the district.
Kory Holdaway, Utah Education Association (UEA) government relations director, said the UEA doesn't dispute that taxpayer dollars shouldn't go toward union activities. But he said districts should pay for duties that benefit the district.
But Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, questioned why a retired or former teacher couldn't serve in that capacity instead of placing a current teacher on leave.
Several other lawmakers said they believe the issue should be locally decided.
This is the third year lawmakers have tried to pass a bill to keep school districts from paying teachers on leave for union activities. A 2009 legislative audit showed that some districts didn't monitor how teachers on paid association leave spent their time or define which activities benefitted unions versus the district.
Ultimately, the committee approved HB183 on a vote of 10-3, and it now moves to the House floor.