SALT LAKE CITY — Starting early Wednesday morning, a federal mediator will attempt to work through the impasse in contract negotiations between the Salt Lake Education Association and the Salt Lake City School District.
Salt Lake Education Association President James Tobler said he is "optimistic" as the association's bargaining team enters the mediation process.
"If they're (school district) at a place they can move any closer to what we're asking, I think we can figure something out," Tobler said Tuesday.
The school district released a statement in advance of the mediation talk also expressing optimism and looking forward to continued negotiations with educators.
"We acknowledge the crucial role our educators make every day in the lives of our students, in our district and in our schools. Throughout the salary negotiation process, we’ve done our best to show our teachers that we value their vital role in educating our students. While we are continually restricted in what we can do due to limited funding, we remain hopeful that we will be able to reach a conclusion that is favorable to both Salt Lake Education Association and the Salt Lake City School District," according to the statement.
A month ago, an impasse was declared after the parties could not reach agreement on the salary schedule and other issues. They mutually agreed to mediation.
The district's bargaining team made three proposals to the education association team, which were all rejected, according to a school district press release.
The final offer included at least a 6 percent pay raise from the previous year and $50,100 starting pay for teachers, slightly more than the $50,000 offered by Canyons and Murray school districts, second only to Park City School District.
However, the proposal also included a single-lane salary schedule, which the association says would result in a loss of more than $125,000 in earnings over a 30-year career.
Tobler said a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service's Las Vegas office is scheduled to meet with teacher association and district representatives for one day, starting at 7 a.m.
"Their job is to try and mediate. They can't force a decision. They just kind of keep us in separate rooms, try to be neutral, find out where there is common ground and work from there," Tobler said.
"Hopefully we can make progress," he said.
Any agreement reached would have to be ratified by the school board and teacher association members.
District spokesman Jason Olsen said the school district and teachers union have gone to mediation in the past but "only once in the last several years. It’s not common."
Terry Shoemaker, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association, said contract negotiations between Utah school districts and teacher associations occasionally involve mediation, but "it's not as common as it might be in other states. Typically, they work it out."
Some working agreements between teacher associations and Utah school districts present mediation as a possible step in negotiations when contract talks break down but most do not, said Shoemaker, who is also associate executive director of the Utah School Boards Association.
Hopefully, mediation will bring a conclusion to the Salt Lake stalemate, he said.
"I'm sure both parties would like to see the matter resolved quickly and amicably," Shoemaker said.