Op-ed: Thank Utah teachers, and then get them better pay
Rep. Jon Cox, a tenured teacher, has presented a good argument for ending tenure ("This teacher/legislator says it's time to end tenure," June 22). The topic merits discussion by the Legislature and boards of education.
However, there should be no debate about his statement that legislators should prioritize increasing teacher pay to reward our best instructors. Both he and I would choose a great teacher over state-of-the art technology.
Our schools are hurting. It is not because we have less skilled teachers. I believe we are blessed with an army of excellent teachers. There are problems in the profession, but their dedication to students is admirable. Teachers are not afraid of hard work; that teaching requirement has not altered with technological advances. It's true; teachers, administrators, and support staff are underappreciated.
With requirements for frequent student testing, new curriculum implementation, and legislative requirements that change yearly due to far too many legislative mandates, teachers must feel like pingpong balls: pounded this direction, slammed another direction, and there is no end in sight.
Every parent and grandparent should say thank you, a lot, to teachers. This acknowledgement of a job well done is particularly needed from the Legislature. Our representatives on Capitol Hill should not act as a super school board. They talk about local control of public education, but they need to consistently show constraint when bills interfere with the control by local boards of education.
When the Legislature does find it necessary to discuss bills dealing with schools, they should consult with educators, our frontline experts.
However, there is an even deeper crisis, and it is teacher salaries. In my school district, Davis, teachers have not had a COLA increase since the 2007-08 school year! That is six very long years with no COLA increase to meet basic living expenses which have increased by 10 percent in the same time span.
Not only that, Davis teachers have actually had a decrease in salary because they are employed fewer days. In 2008, teachers worked 188 days, including days for preparation and some in-service training. Today they are employed 185 days, which means less time for teacher preparation and training for important topics like the curriculum changes.
Since 2008 there have been two years where there was inadequate funding for step increases, the small increase in salary based on teaching experience. Health insurance benefits have also been reduced. Other school districts in Utah have similar salary histories for their employees.
School districts should not be blamed for this dire situation. The vast majority of education funding comes from the state, appropriated by the Legislature.
I served in the Legislature in 2006 when it reduced state income tax. Tax brackets were flattened, which resulted in a significant annual decrease to education funding. I believe now that decision was a mistake. Income tax is earmarked for education. When the recession hit and all tax revenue plummeted, including the income tax, education took a second severe hit. Education funding has not recovered.
It is time to significantly boost the state appropriation for education, primarily to assist our employees. Adequate funding for salary increases is long overdue.
Voters, find out which candidates are willing to improve education funding. Economic development depends on a skilled workforce, and a skilled workforce will not be a reality without talented teachers in the classrooms, whether that classroom is the school next door or an online course.
Please, thank a teacher but support increased legislative funding to improve the salaries of teachers and staff. That is education's most critical need.
Sheryl Allen is a former Utah state legislator from Davis County.
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