SALT LAKE CITY — Is Salt Lake City's east side better than the west side? When it comes to elementary school teachers, one school board member thinks so.
Michael Clara filed a federal complaint accusing the Salt Lake City School District of not allocating enough resources to west side schools.
Clara said there are too many inexperienced and ineffective teachers at west side elementary schools, due to attrition. Why they're leaving, Clara said, is attributable to a number of factors — some of which were outlined in the complaint.
"In the Salt Lake City School District, the highest concentration of the least experienced teachers are employed in the schools with the highest number of students of color, which is on the city's westside," read Clara's complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
In the complaint, Clara accused his colleagues on the council and the district of enabling an unfair system to perpetuate.
"Over the years, the superintendent and my predecessors have produced and sustained a caste system of public education that allocates educational opportunity based on wealth and privilege, rather than on student and community needs," the complaint read.
Clara said the district had been told of the west side exodus a year ago, and he was thwarted in his attempt to reintroduce the matter at the last board meeting as well as the next one.
"The idea was that I was supposed to sit at the table with six other board members and we make policy based on the interest of our children," Clara said. "And you can't do that right now under the current culture."
Salt Lake City School District Superintendent McKell Withers said he didn't know why Clara went outside the district and complained to the federal government.
Withers maintained the district was not avoiding Clara's concerns and the whole flap was more of an issue of procedure and a matter of more urgent talking points with the Utah Legislature in session.
In the Salt Lake City School District, the highest concentration of the least experienced teachers are employed in the schools with the highest number of students of color, which is on the city's westside.
–Michael Clara's complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights
"There was nothing to obstruct or nefarious to hide," he said. "How you recruit and retain and then support great teachers is a pretty complex task."
Withers said the issue would come up at a later date.
Poor schools, because of their federal classification, have more teachers per student which naturally leads to greater turnover, Withers suggested.
He also said inexperienced does not always equal ineffective.
Though Clara said he pressed the issue because of feedback from parents in his district, not every west-sider shares the same criticism of the system.
"I can't find anything negative about this side compared to any other side," said Michael Elizares, whose granddaughter attends North Star Elementary.
Former teacher Heather Lyman said the blame for any lack of success in west side schools lies with parents.
"If there were more parents invested in their students' education, then the west side schools would have a better result," she said.
Clara said the Office for Civil Rights would review his complaint and determine whether to investigate further.
He said he was hopeful the district and the school board would at some point revisit the teacher migration issue.