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Orem feasibility study: Alpine School District teachers leery of an Orem school district

By Genelle Pugmire - | Sep 23, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Members of the public listen to a presentation on the Orem School District Feasibility Study on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Orem Library Hall.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three stories in a series examining the feasibility and plausibility of Orem splitting away from the Alpine School District. The issue, Proposition 2, will be on the ballot for Orem voters this November. The series will look at the three listed targets from the feasibility study — what is in the best interest of the students, teacher’s salaries and benefits, and financial feasibility for a new district.

One of the major selling points of the Orem School District Feasibility Study is the proposed teacher compensation and benefits packages.

The promise has been made that compensation and benefits, including retirement and retention bonus programs in the Alpine School District, would be the same for faculty in a new Orem School District — maybe even more.

That promise, however, is only for the first or possibly second year until a new school board would set the district’s salary and benefits packages for teachers and administrators. So, the actual salary package is still an unknown. That has some area teachers worried.

“Teachers are concerned with a new district not being able to compensate for the package the ASD is currently offering. Whether that is true or not that a new district would not be able to offer a comparable package, teachers are scared to give up what they currently have to risk losing money and benefits if they move to a new district,” said Nicolle Scott, in favor of the new district and Proposition 2. “It must be of your highest priority to offer them an enticing teaching salary, and to relay the message that they can count on being treated as the single most important piece of the school district puzzle.”

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Michael Wankier of DEC Services LLC gives a presentation on the Orem School District Feasibility Study at Orem Library Hall on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

The feasibility study also states that the Orem School District would be larger than 95% of the school districts in the country.

Those supporting the new district, and Proposition 2, have a 10-year projection model on wage increases. A teacher’s salary will transfer over from ASD for the first year. Beyond that, it would be a new school board that would determining the teacher’s salaries along with any increases and benefits.

The Orem district proposal for teachers salary increases is:

  • Year 1 — 7-8% increase
  • Year 2 — 5% increase
  • Year 3 and beyond — 3.2% increase

It should also be noted that teacher’s salaries cannot come from a bond, they would most likely come from property tax increases, if needed.

Currently, there are about 900 teachers, staff and administrators in Orem.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Orem Mayor Dave Young speaks during a meeting at the Daily Herald office on Sept. 14, 2022.

So how much does a teacher make in the Alpine District? And why would they want to stay?

According to the ASD salary pay schedule, an entry-level, first-year teacher with a Bachelor’s degree has a starting wage of $52,165 without benefits. The Provo City School District starts at $48,450.

ASD Secondary teachers with six classes start at $50,085, pay is $57,240 for those with seven daily classes. Administrators with Doctorate degrees start at $101,257 before benefits and bonus incentives.

In terms of benefits, there are five insurance packages to choose from (all but one are covered 100% by the district), a pension plan and retirement incentives, Social Security and more. Alpine also offers a substantial payroll program.

After three years, a teacher receives tenure. If they continue building on their degree by adding steps and lane changes (more schooling) and 15 consecutive years of teaching in the district, teachers could easily take home six-figure retirements.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Jodee Sundberg speaks as part of a group that supports staying in ASD during a meeting at the Daily Herald office on Sept. 7, 2022. Sundberg is former teacher at Orem Elementary School, member of the ASD Board of Education, President of the Utah School Board Association and member of the National School Board Association.

“Alpine School District is appreciative of the many dedicated teachers and employees making a difference in the lives of students every day,” said David Stephenson, executive director of External Relations and Communications. “Our salary structure is very competitive with neighboring districts. When considering the full package including health benefits, retirement benefits, early retirement incentives, and personal/sick-leave benefits, it is clear to see that Alpine is a leader throughout the state.”

StongerTogether, a registered political issues committee, released results of a survey in June of Orem-only educators regarding the formation of an Orem district. The survey gathered the views of teachers, administrators and other ASD employees working in the city regarding the possible formation of an Orem-only school district.

There were 400 people who responded to the survey with 371 completing it. Of those responding, 94.75% were aware of the discussion to split from ASD with 70.64% saying they don’t believe they would ever support an Orem-only school district. Just over 84% of teachers said they would look to remain with ASD if voters came out in favor of the Orem district.

Nearly half of those responding to the survey have been in their positions for more than 12 years. Out of all respondents, 220 (53%) were connected to elementary schools, 48 (12.94%) to junior highs, and 123 (33.15%) to high schools.

The mix of respondents included 75.51% teachers, 13.48% staff, 8.63% student services (nurses, counselors and psychiatrists) and 5.39% administration.

About 48% of respondents reported having worked some portion of their career outside of Alpine.

Of the respondents who support an Orem district, 4.9% said it would result in increased support to schools; 4% said a new district would give better opportunities for Orem families; 3.7% said it would be more responsive to teachers’ concerns; 3.1% said it would be more responsive to parents’ concerns; 2.8% said it would be financially stronger; and 2.5% said it would give better opportunities to the individual responding.

There were 344 respondents to the question indicating they don’t support the new district. Of those respondents, 4.92% said it was because there would be reduced resources; 4.59% said a separate district would be financially weaker; 4.26% there would be reduced opportunities for Orem families; 2.92% said there would be less attractive opportunities for the individual responding; 2.5% said there would be less responsiveness to teacher concerns; and 1.81% said there would be less responsiveness to parent concerns.

In an open-ended questions portion of the survey, teachers shared their reasons for wanting to stay in the larger district.

“Alpine District is a great district to work for and supports its teachers and students,” one teacher wrote. “I know of a number of teachers who moved from Provo District to Alpine District because one city can’t effectively support a district. It would hurt students and teachers and everyone in Orem to try and do it.”

“There would be fewer people for me to reach out to for collaboration purposes,” one unidentified teacher wrote. “In my position, I serve 4 schools in Orem every week. There are 10ish other teachers district-wide who hold the same position as me. We collaborate with each other regularly on how to improve in our jobs and on how to help our struggling students. I love having a community of 10+ minds to work so closely with. In an Orem-only district, the teachers I could collaborate with would be reduced to 1, maybe 2, and we would all become weaker teachers because of that. We need the strength of our numbers. Having a group of 10+ minds brings a lot of wisdom and experience to the table that would be lost with an Orem-only district.”

Another teacher shared their experience with the Jordan-Canyons district split.

“I taught school in the Jordan school district after it had split from Canyons. It was a mess! I have learned and grown SO much as a teacher in Alpine District,” the respondent wrote. “Though certainly (not) perfect, Alpine district has AMAZING people and programs in place. We would lose SO many amazing leaders. And we would be in limbo for several years as we try and recreate the things lost in the district split. How many children would slip through the cracks in that time?”

The Orem School District Feasibility Study cover letter written by Paul McCarty and Michael Wankier, the pair who conducted the study, reads, “School boards and school districts are required to make difficult decisions that have an impact on various residents within the district. It is an unenviable task to make decisions that may be favorable to one area and less favorable to another. Those who teach and manage the Alpine School District (ASD) are to be commended for their honorable service and should be afforded thanks and appreciation.”

It is now up to the city’s voters to determine what Orem schools will look in the decades to come. Mail-in ballots will start arriving in mid-October with the general election on Nov. 8. In the meantime, voter information pamphlets will be arriving in the next few days that will give the pros and cons to Proposition 2.


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