While teachers in several states around the nation were walking out over paltry pay during the last two weeks, two Utah school districts raised teachers’ salaries without much fanfare. Maintaining open communication about student and teacher needs, it seems, will be key for Utah to avoid the disruptive picketing seen around the country.
Jordan School District recently announced it would raise starting teachers’ salary to $42,800. Granite School Board followed several days later and announced a bump to its starting salaries, making the jump from $37,000 to $41,000.
Arizona teachers won a similar victory last week, but that came at the cost of a weeklong walkout.
Striking is a necessary tool in the arsenal of negotiation tactics, albeit a tool of last resort. It represents a breakdown in communication and an unwillingness to have difficult discussions. In some cases it leads to an untenable list of demands that would have been more palatable if negotiations occurred at levels of less emotion. Of consideration is whether playmakers in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia exhausted all other avenues of communication before resorting to walkouts.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to dispute the faults in the education financial system. Teachers across the country have rightly raised concerns over limited resources and overextended hours as a result of recession-era funding cuts that were never replenished.
Most states fail to compensate teachers at a level congruent with the amount of work they perform, leading some teachers to take additional jobs that pull them away from classroom duties. Additionally, inefficient administrative systems at the school and district level likely contribute to bloated budgets.
Funding education through any tax increase, however, demands responsibility. Residents should follow the money and ask what the end result will look like. Will it go to teacher salaries in order to hire the best talent? Will it go to administrative personnel? Will it maintain arts and extracurricular programs? Will it be plowed into new infrastructure?
Local needs will dictate affirmative answers to any of those questions. But deals made from moments of passion at the expense of students in the classroom leave little time to work out the details of budget increases.
Despite salary bumps in Utah during the past two years, Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, highlights Utah as a state vulnerable to striking because it has “the nation's second-lowest per-pupil spending ($6,900), its third-highest number of students per teacher (23 — Vermont has just nine) and its sixth-lowest average teacher pay ($48,000).” Utah’s high person per household ratio, however, partially explains this gap.53 comments on this story
To avoid the fate of Oklahoma in the early ’90s, where teacher strikes essentially led to a freeze in any increased education spending for decades, Utah lawmakers should take the lead on driving conversations that minimize walkouts and ensure a vibrant teacher workforce. The Legislature’s recent proposal to increase education funding by as much as $400 million, paid for by an increase in the gas tax and some financial footwork, could be a nice addition to Utah’s comparatively low education spending. And the decisive action of Jordan and Granite school districts is positive for teachers in those areas.
Above all, however, should be open lines of communication between teachers, administrators and lawmakers. Healthy, sometimes uncomfortable dialogue about needs, priorities and outcomes will do more to boost student success than reacting to the walkout demands of an exasperated and exhausted group of educators.