SALT LAKE CITY — Chants of "6 percent" went up in front of the Salt Lake City School District building as a crowd of teachers, wearing red and holding signs, filled the steps.
An estimated 150 educators assembled at the school district's board meeting Tuesday evening to ask the district — through mostly silent demonstration — for a larger increase in salary than they say has been offered in negotiations thus far.
The district has proposed a 3 percent increase within its existing compensation system for teachers, according to Salt Lake Education Association President James Tobler. Association members say that isn't enough, especially in light of rising housing costs, the burden of student debt, and the fact that other nearby districts are making moves this year to raise starting teacher salaries to around $50,000.
The Salt Lake City School District declined to comment on the negotiations, which are confidential.
The board didn't address teacher compensation at the meeting Tuesday night, and no representatives from the association publicly commented on the matter. But that was expected. The point of the demonstration was to demonstrate solidarity among educators — to wake the "sleeping giant," as Tobler put it.
"We wanted to show that we're united and standing together," Tobler told the crowd of teachers gathered after the protest. "We want more funding for our teachers, more funding for our schools, and that message was sent loud and clear."
Demonstrators in red filled the chairs at the board meeting, while more filled standing room in the back. Many held signs reading "5%" or "6%," the salary percentage increase desired by association members.
"3%? That's an insult, not a raise," one sign read.
"3% is NOT enough to live," read another.
Brett Markum, a special education teacher at East High School, described the prospect of a 3 percent raise as a "slap in the face," especially considering the increases other districts have approved this year.
The Murray City Board of Education last month approved a salary package that raises starting teacher pay to $50,000 a year and also includes a near $7,000 raise for all licensed teachers. Canyons School District also recently approved raising starting teacher pay to $50,000, along with a $7,665 annual raise for all certified teachers.
The Jordan School District will pay starting teachers $48,000 next fall, contingent on a property tax increase and ratification by the teacher association, the district announced last week.
The Granite Board of Education and the Granite Education Association tentatively agreed in Aprilto set starting teacher pay around $43,483 while not increasing teachers' health insurance premiums.
Starting teacher pay in the Salt Lake City School District is currently $45,000. With a 3 percent increase, it would be $46,350. With a 6 percent increase, it would be $47,700.
"The cost of living in Salt Lake is skyrocketing," Tobler said. "We like when teachers live in their community, generally."
Lisa Johnson, a teacher at Dilworth Elementary School who has worked in the district for 13 years, attended the protest with her daughter, Cher Western, also a Salt Lake City School District teacher.
"I think we're always overlooked," Johnson said, noting the financial impact of student loan debt on some teachers. "It can be massive, and it can be hard to get out from."
Other issues the teacher association hopes to address in negotiations include paid parental leave, capping class sizes, and potentially shifting some sick days to personal days, Tobler said.
"We have a Legislature that is, to be honest, kind of inept when it comes to funding education," Tobler said. "This is part of a longer conversation. We're going to hopefully send a message."