Guest Commentary by Rep. Keith Grover
They say the third time is the charm. In the case of House Bill 183, I hope that is true. Sadly, this bill based on accountability, fiscal responsibility, and principle should have passed easily the first time around. Unfortunately, the power and influence of the teacher’s union too often triumphs over the best interests of our students.
No practice illustrates this better than what’s called “district leave”. This practice adopted and sanctioned by local school boards allows a district employee to be granted leave from the school district to work full-time for the teacher’s union while still receiving half of their salary and benefits from the school district. What this actually means is that taxpayers are paying union salaries. No other union in Utah allows this practice. And for good reason! The interests of the union are in conflict with those of the taxpayer.
A legislative audit requested by the original bill sponsor revealed, “The association president represents the interests of teachers which, at times, conflict with the interests of the district.” The report also found, “Districts are not fulfilling their statutory responsibilities to ensure that association leave has a direct benefit to the school district.” (http://www.le.state.ut.us/audit/09_bilr.pdf)
The Salt Lake Tribune characterized it best in an editorial opinion they wrote in support of this bill the year it was introduced. “But what does it mean to ‘directly benefit education’?” This was the question posed in their March 1, 2009, opinion article, UEA Pay Deal. Their answer summed it up well. “It has evolved to mean, in practice, that some districts continue to fork out hefty amounts to pay people who are no longer working strictly for the district. In fact, in union parlance, these UEA officials are being paid by the employer, the opponent in contract negotiations. It’s like having one foot on the ground and the other on a moving train.”
In 2009, then teacher’s union president, Kim Campbell stated, “This bill would take away the voice of teacher associations” (Deseret News Feb. 24, 2009). The union is a private organization whose sole responsibility is to represent the interests of dues paying members. It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to subsidize an organization that does not represent us or our children. It’s not our responsibility to provide the union with a voice.
HB183 would prohibit granting paid association leave and require reimbursement to a school district, including the cost of benefits, for the time that the employee is on unpaid association leave. HB183 addresses fiscal responsibility. We cannot afford to divert money away from the classroom, especially in lean budget years. Districts must be held accountable to taxpayers to spend their budgets directly on the education of our children. Union salaries are not an appropriate expenditure.
It’s time to put an end to this ethically questionable practice and place the best interests of the taxpayers and students of Utah ahead of the conflicting interests of the teacher’s union by passing HB183.