A few years removed from contentious teacher salary negotiations with the Park City School District that pushed the Park City Education Association into the headlines, the association is still unsure the public understands exactly what it does.
As the local affiliate of the state and national education associations, negotiating salaries is a big part of the Park City Education Association -- but its leaders say that's far from the only thing it does.
"We're the collective voice of teachers in this district," said Ed Mulick, co-president of the association. "We're a vehicle for communication. When the district has to implement a policy, we're the ones who help with that. We're teacher advocates, but we do it in a way we want to help students."
Mulick said the national conversation about teachers unions, spurred by controversies across the country, has tainted the perceptions of unions like the Park City Education Association. People often think teachers unions are interested only in maintaining the bottom line for teachers and ensuring no tenured educators can lose their jobs.
But that's not the case with the Park City Education Association, Mulick said.
"It is kind of frustrating when you hear that because we're driving the union bus," Mulick said. "People are like, 'You just want to support bad teachers.' Where is that coming from? We don't."
Jim Fleming, the association's other co-president said, however, that the Park City community has an overall positive perception of the association.
"When they're talking about failing schools and radical teachers' unions, I don't think they're necessarily talking about Park City," he said.
Still, there are plenty of misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge about what the Park City Education Assocation's functions are. Jenny McKenna, who will become president of the PCEA next year, said one of the main directives of the association is to work closely with the state to bring local concerns to the state level.
The association advocates for many things that improve students' educational experiences, she said.
"I don't know if the community knows about all the things we're involved in," McKenna said. "We're also involved in student health and school safety and things that are at a national concern that may not be directly tied to curriculum."
Mulick said causes the Park City Education Association has recently fought for include ensuring educational time is put to good use, as well as smaller class sizes, which have crept up as the School District has experienced heavy growth. Michele Deiterich, the association's treasurer, said it's all about making sure the School District's administration understands the challenges teachers face.
"When we negotiate, we're not just negotiating for salary," Deiterich said. "We're negotiating how the teachers can best be used in the classroom. The board and the administration aren't teaching, so they need to hear what the teachers need to make the students learn better. We're that voice: 'This is what it's like in the trenches.'"
The association even advocates measures that ensure each teacher is carrying his or her weight.
"We're really about quality education," Mulick said. "That's what it's about. We support teacher evaluations, as long as they're transparent, fair, equitable and valid."
Added Fleming: "We don't want people in the classroom who aren't doing the job. Not everyone can be a perfect teacher, but we support good teaching because it reflects on all of us."
Despite its other purposes, teacher salary negotiations always are looming. The association will again enter negotiations with the School District next year. Fleming said the two sides should be able to start the process with better collaboration than they did during the most recent negotiations, which concluded in 2013 after the Park City Education Association filed an impasse with the Utah State Office of Education.
"We're not an adversarial union," Fleming said. "I think we work closely with the administration. That doesn't mean there's never controversy. That's just the nature of it."