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Will There Be A Teacher Walkout In Utah?


In the past few weeks teachers have been on strike for better pay in a number of states. Walkouts have taken place in West Virginia, Kentucky and Colorado — places that pay about what Utah does. In fact, Utah is ranked No. 45 in the country when it comes to teacher salary. So, will teachers here walkout next?

The right people to answer that question are the teachers themselves. Like Adrianna Barona, 6th grade teacher at Oquirrh Elementary School in West Jordan.


This is Barona's first year teaching and she said it's been a challenge learning to juggle everything expected of her. But, she's enjoying it and her salary isn't often on her mind.


In fact, when asked what her salary was Barona didn't know off the top of her head, she had to look it up online (all public school salaries are available with a quick search).


As a first year teacher in the Jordan School District, Barona is making $40,000 a year. That salary is actually pretty competitive. Last year Jordan, and a few neighboring districts, bumped up first year teacher pay by around $6,000.


That pay increase is probably why Barona didn't have her salary committed to memory. She’s not that worried about it. She’s content and a walkout isn’t on her mind, for now.


“If I thought [my pay] was unfair, or if I felt I was being personally attacked I might respond differently," Barona said.


Just up the road from Barona’s school, at Copper Hills High School, there is a teacher who feels differently.


Steve Haslam teaches English, journalism, and he runs the school newspaper. He’s also starting a literary magazine for the students and teaches Utah’s only state-certified slam poetry class.


Haslam also saw a bump in his salary last year, about $5,000. But he sees a slow climb ahead to where he'd like to be.

The kids deserve 110 percent of what we can give them and right now they're getting nowhere near what they deserve because we are exhausted.

"I know that when my doctorate goes into effect that I’ll be making less than two thousand a year," said Haslam.

Haslam is finishing up a doctorate this summer. And for that he says he’ll only see about a $1,500 increase. As a teacher with 10 years experience and advanced degrees, Haslam is making around $56,000 currently.

Between providing for his family and paying off expensive student loans, Haslam said it's not easy making ends meet. So, like a lot of teachers, heworks a second job. He teaches night classes at Salt Lake Community College.

"The kids deserve 110 percent of what we can give them and right now they’re getting nowhere near what they deserve because we are exhausted," said Haslam.

Haslam said he’s glad to see overworked teachers like him across the country walkout and demand better pay.

"I know I would [walkout]," Haslam said. "I know I have a lot of friends that would, but I also know a lot of teachers that are scared.”

Maybe it's a culture thing but Haslam says a lot of teachers in Utah aren’t willing to rock the boat.

HeidMatthews, head of the Utah Education Association — the largest teachers union in the state — said teachers in Utah are walking out, in a way.

“They may not be storming the capitol but they are making the decision to leave the classroom," said Matthews.

Matthews worries about mid-career teachers like Haslam and teachers in rural districts that didn't see pay increases like the one in the Jordan District. She said a lot of them are leaving the profession altogether.

Although there is a distinct difference between Utah and some of these other states that are seeing walkouts. A school funding compromise, originally known as Our Schools now, is in the works.


Later this year voters will get to decide on a gasoline tax, about 10 cents a gallon, that could help pump 400 million more dollars into education along with an increased state budget. If it goes to plan teachers may see 5 to 6 percent increases in salary over the next few years.


“I know that Oklahoma and West Virginia and Arizona and Colorado and Nebraska would have much preferred to be working collaboratively as we are," said Matthews.


But, she’s keeping her eyes on November. And if voters choose not to give schools a tax boost, Matthews says anything — including a walkout — is possible.


Correction: A previous version of this story included a quote from Steve Haslam that said he received a raise that was less than $1,000. The story has been updated to reflect the actual number, which is closer to $5,000. 


Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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