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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A new organization for teachers is seeking to influence the Legislature and provide an alternate voice to the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.
The Utah Council of Educators believes it is more representative than the UEA because it isn't affiliated with a national union.
"We are teachers, not teamsters," said Dave Barrett, the group's founder.
Some lawmakers say the group could be the key to establishing a healthy relationship with the Legislature.
"Unfortunately there is a real polarization between the Legislature, generally, and UEA ... there's a history of battles there," said Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights.
Bell said the National Education Association, with which the UEA is affiliated, and the American Federation of Teachers, whose local affiliate is AFT-Utah, have taken liberal positions that are different than mainstream Utah politics.
"I think a moderate influence on the Hill giving the Legislature credit for what they do and yet bringing to attention things like class sizes and teachers' salaries could help in opening up dialogue," Bell said. "We'll have to see what their outlook is, but at first blush it looks like they will be pretty helpful."
But UEA spokesman Mark Mickelson said many teachers wouldn't join the Utah Council of Educators if they knew more about it, saying the group's parent organization - the Association of American Educators - receives contributions from pro-voucher and anti-labor groups.
"We don't believe that Utah educators are aware of that, and given those facts we believe that educators probably would not join an association like this if they knew that the funding came from groups hostile to public education," Mickelson said.
Barrett said his group does not support tuition tax credits for private school vouchers and said the claim is the UEA's attempt to discredit the organization.
"This is just their accusation of our national affiliate if that was on our agenda we would certainly want to make that known to our teacher members," Barrett said. "The reality is we are completely supportive of our public school system and want to bolster and strengthen it."
On the Net: Utah Council of Educators www.utce.org.
Information from: Deseret Morning News, http://www.deseretnews.com
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)