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Lawmaker defends decision that may exclude Salt Lake City teachers from $1,500 bonus

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson is throwing his support behind three police reform bills. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson is defending a decision from lawmakers that may exclude Salt Lake City School District teachers (SLCSD) from a $1,500 bonus which would be distributed in early 2021. The one-time bonus is part of a $400 million addition to Utah’s public school budget. 

The decision comes as several lawmakers have expressed frustrations that the SLCSD is the only district that hasn’t returned to in-person classes. However, Rep. Wilson said the decision is a motivation for students to return to the classroom. 

“I want those teachers to get that bonus — and those cafeteria workers and those janitors,” Wilson said. “The school board in Salt Lake City has been unresponsive to parents.”

What teachers get the bonus? 

Under the plan, about $121 million would go toward bonuses for educators — with $1,500 bonuses for teachers, $1,000 for non-administrative staff members and a pro-rated bonus for part-time employees. However, the bonuses will only go toward schools who return to in-person or hybrid classes before the 2021 legislative session begins on Jan. 19. 

“All of our educators have worked hard, but this motion on the intent language basically says we’re going to funnel this money to those [schools] that have had their students in a classroom,” Wilson said during the meeting Wednesday.

The Salt Lake City School District announced plans to gradually return to in-person classes, beginning with kindergarten and first-graders the week of Jan. 25 — one week after the deadline. 

Push back on the decision

The decision was met with pushback, particularly from Democrat lawmakers who argued teachers are under stress regardless if they’re teaching in-person or online. 

Despite disagreements, Rep. Wilson said several parents have reached out to him in support. 

“I have 40 pages of emails from parents in the Salt Lake City School District thanking me and the legislature for what we did yesterday,” he said. 

Although he expected pushback, the house speaker posted on Twitter that he expected “a wrath” of negative comments. However, Rep. Wilson said he believes the decision is in the best interest of students. 

“Students want to get back into the classroom,” he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “Their futures depend on it. I hope that the Salt Lake City School District will do right by the children it has been charged to educate and provide the in-classroom instruction that allows those children to thrive.” 

Lawmakers plan to distribute bonuses to teachers in February.