Teachers Rally in Salt Lake City

(KCPW News) Dozens of teachers rallied outside the Salt Lake City Main Library Friday, calling on state lawmakers to show them more respect and stop what they believe are attacks on public education. Third-grade teacher Heidi Jensen says they gathered in response to what happened in Ogden recently, where teachers were presented a contract to sign without any negotiations. Jensen says lawmakers want to make that a state policy even though they’re not experts on education.

“You have to talk to the experts. You can’t take away our collective bargaining. Because it’s not that we’re a union, we’re a professional association,” she says. “Our first and foremost goal is to promote the quality of education for everybody, teachers, students, the community. My working conditions are your child’s learning conditions. So if we can’t be in support of that, where do we stand?”

Jensen said she and other teachers at the rally were concerned there is an effort underway to privatize the public school system.

But Republican Senator Howard Stephenson says there is no such effort. He adds the complaints are all about protecting unions, not teachers and students.

“We’re talking about the influence of rogue union leaders who put personal interests ahead of the teachers and ahead of the students; those who negotiate behind closed doors to remove benefits from rank-and-file teachers, which in turn benefit the senior teachers,” he told KCPW.

Stephenson says closed-door negotiations and lobbying prevent Utah from protecting the best and the brightest teachers. The lawmaker recently sparked concern by proposing to study eliminating collective bargaining and creating tuition tax credits, which opponents believe are just the same as vouchers.