Guest opinion: Open letter to Utah legislators

I’ve heard that the Legislature is confused about the less than positive response from teachers over the passage of HB215. Perhaps you should know how the majority feel about that. It’s like the Legislature offered them a Twinkie as a diversion while you punched them in the gut. Our support staff feels even worse–they didn’t even get a Twinkie! What they heard with HB215 is “you are not educating our most at-risk students well, so we’re going to take some of the funding that could have been yours and give it to a private company, so you have some competition. Maybe then you’ll do a better job.” As long as our Legislative leadership is in league with ALEC, accepting corporate sponsored policies for our state, we’ll not have legislation that is best fitted to Utahns. 

I believe one of the best kept secrets in the Utah Legislature is that local school board members are also publicly elected officials AND we share the same constituents with Legislators. However, I argue that we are closer to our shared constituents than Legislators because we are in their schools daily, engaging with their most precious belongings–their children. We sit with them in their school community councils, their PTA meetings, their school activities, assemblies and graduations. We celebrate with them and mourn with them personally. That’s why we so often advocate for local control in legislation. HB215 was passed in a record eight days at the beginning of the Session, with a suspension of the rules in both chambers of the Legislature. If an LEA governing board did that, we’d be sanctioned so fast it would make your head spin! Now a bill to remove the Income Tax earmark for education from the Utah Constitution has been introduced, without replacing that earmark with constitutional guarantees of funding and appropriations for Public Education in Utah and you want us to TRUST the current Legislature as well as future Legislatures to “take care of Public Ed”? I don’t think so! 

Please tell Mr. Jonathan Ball that when he’s creating his beautiful charts, graphs, and numbers to show the “unprecedented growth in Public Ed funding” to the Legislature, so you can pat yourselves on the back, he should at least be honest and give that some context, like adding a line for the unprecedented inflation, and the unprecedented growth in student numbers, and the unprecedented growth in mandated reports, audits, and state-sponsored staff trainings that are overburdening Public Education personnel in time and therefore money. Public Ed appreciates the increased funding but please put it into perspective for the public. We appreciate WPU increases and a 5.5% increase in the WPU cannot equate to a 5.5% increase in teachers’ salaries. The WPU must also pay for support staff wage increases, as well as heating, lighting, curriculum, technology, supplies, etc.–all necessary so teachers can teach well. 

Just this week one of our venerable Legislators was overheard on The Hill saying, “I’m PROUD of the fact that Utah is last in education funding!” I’m confident I speak for school board members across this great state when I say, “We don’t really care whether we’re 50th, or 37th, or 12th in the nation. We don’t care about the ranking. We just want Utah Public Ed funded ADEQUATELY to provide a liveable wage for our staff members as they provide a world class education for our students. We believe the Legislature should try a little harder to do a little better in constitutionally funded, and appropriated, public education funding for generations to come. 

Teri Rhodes, President, Cache County School Board; Pres. Elect, Utah School Boards Assoc.