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SALT LAKE CITY -- Since the Jordan School District announced it would have to lay off 500 employees -- including 250 teachers -- as a result of a $30 million shortfall, the outrage from parents and teachers in the district has continued to grow.
Hope hinges in part on two bills
State lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that could help the budget crisis. One of them, House Bill 137, would raise the sales tax by 0.1 percent, generating $21 million for public schools.
On behalf of many teachers, Utah Education Association lobbyists are holding their breath, urging lawmakers to look into the future.
"We really need to think about long-term funding in this state," said UEA president Kim Campbell.
Another proposal, House Bill 295, would allow districts, for two years, to take money that is designated for building maintenance and divert it to pay teachers and reduce class sizes.
Jordan School District spokesman Steven Dunham is particularly intrigued by HB 295.
"That would allow us a tremendous amount of flexibility, especially considering the level of deficit that Jordan School District is facing," Dunham said
Still, Rep. Ken Sumsion admitted the bill would free up less than half of the money the district needs.
"It's not the $30 million they're short, but it would help dampen the impact," he said.
The district is looking at a $30 million shortfall. The Jordan School Board's solution includes the elimination of 500 jobs, including 250 currently belonging to teachers.
"It's a multiple fix," said Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan." The Legislature has to step up and take ownership of the fact that we screwed up, we made mistakes; and we need to fix those mistakes."
Both bills cleared the House Education Committee Tuesday.
Teachers and parents rally at the Capitol
There has already been student walkouts and picketing at high schools. On Wednesday, that frustration was heard loud and clear during a rally at the State Capitol.
There were approximately 50 teachers, parents and students on the first floor of the Capitol asking the Utah Legislature to help the Jordan School District get the funding it needs to keep its teachers from losing their jobs and keep class sizes from increasing.
Bingham High School teacher Melinda Mansouri said, "We want them looking for money in every corner. We want them looking and trying to figure out the best way to try and do this that doesn't impact classes and kids."
"This is a crisis situation," said Utah Education Association President Kim Campbell. "We've got to get some money into our public schools so that they can sustain those kids that are in there. They don't get a second chance."
Melissa Warren, of South Jordan, came because she's worried about class sizes going up.
"I just don't think it's OK for them to push them onto the kids. This isn't the kids' problem, and they shouldn't have to suffer," she said.
Warren said at home she finds money in every little corner to make her budget.
"I think there's money available in different places that can help us out," Warren said. She does support a tax increase but wants to see other things happen first.
Riverton High school PTA president Kris Denison came to support the teachers.
She said, "I have a student, and they are concerned because the teachers are worried; and they are worried they won't have the one-on-one time they need with the teachers."
A district spokesman said teachers used personal leave to attend the rally, and those who were out of personal leave were allowed alternative leave, where they paid for a substitute out of their own pocket.
The Jordan Education Association says other teachers will picket at 4 p.m. outside at least five elementary schools (Heartland, Majestic, Terra Linda, West Jordan and Westland) that are holding parent teacher conferences.
Students have walked out of class, could teachers be next?
During the past week, Jordan district students have walked out of class to protest potential layoffs. A district teacher representative, Sara Newberry, told the Deseret News teachers now are considering a walkout as a last resort but currently are not planning a strike. She says teachers would give public warning prior to a walkout.
Students who walked out in protest last week could face consequences. Officials say those were unexcused absences and students may be required to make up the time after school or on a Saturday, or suffer academically.
One week ago, about 500 angry parents, teachers, and students showed up for the Jordan School Board meeting to voice concerns about the pending layoffs and class size increases.
Story compiled with information from Richard Piatt, Shara Park, Mary Richards, Andrew Adams and the Deseret News.