SALT LAKE CITY — Amid an impasse in salary negotiations, about 150 Salt Lake School District teachers rallied Tuesday to ask for more money.
Chelsie Acosta, a teacher at Glendale Middle School, told the Deseret News she "easily" spends between $600 and $800 dollars of her own money on her classroom every year, while the state gives teachers $200 to pay for classroom supplies alone. That doesn't include the money she spends on extracurricular expenses, Acosta explained.
"How many of you spent more than your $200 stipend this year?" she asked the crowd during the rally, and was met with cheers.
"I don't want money for extra shoes, although it'd be nice. I want money so I can prepare my classroom. So I can get what my students need. So I can go to their extracurricular activities and support them in any way they need to be. I've bought groceries for immigrant families before that don't have any food coming in. I want that money so that I can go on and support my students and the community the best that I can," Acosta explained.
The supporters and teachers wore red T-shirts and some carried signs in front of Innovations High School during the upbeat event organized by the Salt Lake Education Association.
Contract negotiations between the Salt Lake City School District and the Salt Lake Education Association have remained at a standstill since the teachers union rejected the district's third offer early this month.
The latest offer, according to the school district, included a $50,100 starting pay for teachers, unlimited step increases of $900 per increment, and at least a 6 percent increase from the previous year’s salary as the district transitions to a new salary schedule.
Starting pay for Salt Lake teachers under that proposal would be the highest along the Wasatch Front, with only Park City School District offering more, the district noted.
John Arthur, a teacher at Meadowlark Elementary School, said, "The other districts are offered $50,000. They offer us $50,100 to say they're offering us more. That's like 50 cents a day. … It's ridiculous. How is that supposed to make us feel?" Arthur asked.
"If you stand against teachers when all we're demanding is fair pay, parental leave and a reasonable cap on class sizes, you've got problems," Arthur said.
Teachers at the rally said that most of all, they oppose the new salary schedule that they say would mean a loss of more than $125,000 in earnings over 30-year careers. They support a 6 percent pay increase.
In the current system, teachers in the district make a little over $1,500 with each step they progress in professional development. For example, if a teacher receives 20 extra college credits to grow as a professional, they get to "move over an entire lane." In the new single-lane system, they'd instead receive $900, Arthur said.
"I find it personally insulting when I have chosen to be in a relationship and the other side of that relationship devalues me and diminishes the value of my professional learning, the value of my worth and puts a number to it," Arthur said.
The teachers said they believe they should be paid more because of a higher cost of living in the area, the higher wages earned by those of other professions in the area and unique challenges faced in the classroom.
Marilee Coles-Ritchie, a parent in the school district, proclaimed, "The cost of living in the Salt Lake City district is very, very high. It is way higher than it is in other districts. This raise is so important for so many reasons."
Though Elise Maxwell, a third-grade teacher in the school district, said speaking out was "far outside her comfort zone," she insisted, "I've had enough."
"I've had enough of being called 'just a teacher.' I've had enough of being undervalued. I've had enough of being underappreciated and underfunded every day," Maxwell explained.
She said whenever she does back-to-school shopping, a fellow shopper will offer to buy "30 of everything in my cart and they'll thank me for being a teacher."22 comments on this story
"But then we turn around and we have a Legislature that refuses to adequately fund us," Maxwell said. "Here we are at impasse because we had the audacity to ask to be treated like the professionals that we are."
"We are so lucky, our jobs are so meaningful and they matter so much every day. But feeling fulfilled in your job doesn't pay the bills," she added.
On July 10, the Salt Lake Education Association will enter mediation with the school district as mandated by state law, according to the association.
Organizers at the event said they remained hopeful they will reach a satisfactory agreement.