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The City Journals

Jordan School District raises pay and expectations

Jun 18, 2019 03:53PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Jordan District teachers have been promised a $3,075 annual increase to their wages but the school board is hoping to give them even more.

“Jordan School District has fought for many years to elevate teaching, to push the other districts to elevate teaching,” said Jordan District Board President Bryce Dunford, who said the winners of the district salary wars are the teachers.

To stay competitive with districts with a larger commercial tax base, Jordan’s board is asking the community to support a tax increase—about $6 a month—that would directly increase teacher wages an additional $3,000 a year, bringing the starting salary to $48,000 per year.

Board members are asking the community to invest in the good teachers in their schools instead of losing them to other districts offering higher salaries such as Canyons and Murray, which both recently announced a $50,000 starting pay.

Southland Elementary teacher Cindy McDowell is concerned by the lack of public support for previously proposed tax increases to benefit education.

“The public is paying a certain amount right now, and they’re getting quality teachers,” said McDowell. “Why would they want a tax raise to get the same teachers?”

The board will solicit feedback from the community at public meetings held at local high schools during June and July. At the Truth in Taxation hearing at 6 p.m. on Aug. 6, at Riverton High School, the seven board members will vote whether to levy the tax.

Salary pay is only part of the Jordan pay package. What sets it apart from other districts is incentive pay opportunities, said Dunford. Teachers can apply for grant money for the time they invest in improving student learning.

“We don’t want our teachers just to be paid,” said Dunford. “We want to offer an incentive to do a little bit more.”

Last year Jordan District, who was recently named No. 12 on Forbes’ list of Utah Best Employers, introduced grants for their teachers who were putting in additional hours to run after-school activities and to develop new curriculum for their classrooms. The grant pool increased 50 percent this year, creating $4.5 million available to reward the district’s 2,700 teachers for their extra efforts.

Reaction to the pay package was mixed when announced May 29. Some teachers said grant applications were too time consuming and were not available for provisional teachers.

McDowell expressed frustration that teachers are being asked to prove that they are doing excellent work before they get more pay.

“I’m not happy that we’re having to justify a raise,” she said.

Dunford acknowledged the grant program, after just one year, still has some kinks to work out. But he emphasized that no other district pays their teachers for these hours.

“This board stands behind incentive pay as a way of improving teaching,” Dunford said. “We pray that you won’t see it as hoops you have to jump through but as rewards for extra excellent teaching.”

Kathy Bekkemellom, a teacher at South Hills Middle School, is pleased with the grant program through which she was paid for her time to develop curriculum for a new digital literacy class, which every computers teacher in the state was doing anyway.

“It’s something I would have done no matter what,” she said. “So, I took 10 minutes, filled out the grant and got an extra $3,000.”

Bekkemellom is happy with the new pay package.

“I’m glad that they’re trying to stay competitive with the other districts and motivate the teachers to do excellent work,” she said.

Board member Matt Young said when negotiating teacher pay, the board’s role is to balance the expectations of taxpayers and teachers.

“Our role is to see a bigger picture,” said Young. “We are accountable to multiple stakeholders."

Board members believe incentivizing teachers’ extraordinary efforts will create the best district possible.

“We believe strongly that this is going to push teaching in Jordan School District to a completely new level,” said Dunford. “Our teachers are going to generate ideas that no one’s thinking about. We’re going to come up with teaching techniques that no one’s trying. We’re going to use technology in a way that no one else is doing because teachers get compensated for doing great things rather than just being ordinary like everyone else. That’s why we offer the incentive pay.”

Jordan teachers are also being asked to work two more days next year. They will be prep days to set up classrooms at beginning of the year and to prepare curriculum, which teachers usually do without pay.

Additional funding is currently being developed into new programs including incentives for mentoring, bringing the total fund for incentive pay to $7 million.