Today is the last contract day for educators in Granite School District. Completion of the 2019-20 school year would have fizzled out quietly if not for educators and administrators organizing makeshift graduation celebrations, parades in neighborhoods, and celebration lines in front of elementary schools. GEA honors Westbrook and Sandburg Elementary teachers, administrators, and staff as they said goodbye to their respective buildings as well as students. Change is difficult, but they made it special just the same.
GEA is also saying farewell with gratitude to the over 100 career educators and dedicated members who are retiring this year. Bittersweet to be sure.
As reported in a recent blog post, Granite School District Board of Directors and Superintendency continue to honor the ratified agreement which included a 5% COLA and 3% One-time Bonus. A huge lift to be sure as the state legislature meets today in its Public Education Appropriation Committee to discuss how the education budget should be reduced. In February and March many of GEA’s association representatives held school walk-ins to speak out loud the need for adequate funding for our schools and students. Teachers wore Red and organized both parents and students to join the walk-ins in support for increased funding. Before closing the 2020 Utah Legislative Session, legislators enacted a 6% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit which honored the desperate need of funding for our public schools. Now, even though Utah is last in the nation for per pupil funding, the legislature is looking at taking back its promised increase due to state economic loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand some budgetary adjustments must be made, but strongly plea that public education is held harmless.
In a recent letter to Utah legislators, UEA President, Heidi Matthews urges, “The UEA disputes the assumption that the discussion must begin with budget reduction scenarios of 2%, 5% and 10% from the base budget. No cuts should be considered until revenue projections are fully understood and every option for backfilling any budget shortfalls has been explored. Use of bonding, rainy day funds, federal CARES Act monies, non-lapsing balances, and any other potential revenue source or expense deferral must all be considered BEFORE making ANY cuts to public education.” So, even though the official contract year is coming to an end, the advocacy work of GEA and UEA continues 24/7. We believe our public educators and students deserve more than last place for funding. Educators at all levels are working harder than ever to provide a robust distance learning platform for students during this pandemic. In anticipation of a potential continued school dismissal in the fall, educators will be adjusting curriculum and lesson material to prepare and polish the work they have done on the fly since March of this year.
GEA believes that public education should be the last place, not the first, where state leaders focus budget cuts in the troubled economic times we face. The multi-million dollar rainy day fund should be utilized to fill budget shortfalls. Utah’s rainy day fund ranks 19th in the nation, and the state is healthy financially because of this prudence in savings. However, being last in the nation for per pupil funding, and NOT utilize the rainy day fund but further cut public education funding is backward-thinking at best. Perhaps if the legislature is looking in every nook and cranny for funding cuts, it should consider the $6 million voucher bill it passed in a recent special session. Just saying.