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Utah School Districts Raising Teacher Salaries As Teacher Shortage Drags On

Photo of classroom. / Ridofranz
Five Utah school districts have passed pay raises for their teachers.

As Utah faces an ongoing teacher shortage, a growing number of school districts are looking to bump up salaries as a way to recruit and retain educators.

The latest is Ogden School District, whose board approved a 5.7% pay increase for its educators during a special session Monday afternoon. That will bring up the starting salary for new Ogden district teachers from $42,172 to $45,472.

This recent pay bump for Utah teachers is part of a movement among local school districts that’s been going on for three years.

“I think it’s an unprecedented moment and I think it’s maybe an important moment in terms of getting teachers a salary for a career that is commensurate with other professions,” said Shawn Teigen, vice president and director of research for Utah Foundation which published a report Utah teacher pay last month.

Four other school districts have recently approved their own teacher pay raises including:

  • Canyons School District is raising teachers’ salaries by almost $8,000. That brings Canyons’ starting salary up to about $50,000.
  • Murray School District passed a $7,000 increase which also brings its starting salary to $50,000.
  • Davis School District’s Board of Education approved an 8.33 percent increase in total teacher compensation, raising starting salaries to $44,000.
  • Granite School District is raising its starting salary to nearly $44,000, and has a new Employee Wellness Clinic that will offer employees free medical and pharmaceutical services.

Starting next year, starting salaries at Canyons and Murray school districts will be directly behind Park City School District, where new teachers earn $50,700, the highest starting salary in the state. Canyons and Davis school districts will raise property taxes to fund their new teacher compensation packages.
Davis’ compensation package also included a 4.75% increase to cost of living adjustments for its teachers, the largest increase of its kind in several years, said Yvonne Speckman, president of the Davis Education Association, the district’s teachers union.

“We appreciate the commitment by our school board to look at as many possibilities as they can to help raise educator compensation,” said Speckman, who teaches sixth grade at Buffalo Point Elementary School in Syracuse.

Aside from fair compensation, Speckman said she and her colleagues have struggled to find enough time and resources to do their jobs. She thinks K-12 public education is still far behind in adequate funding provided by the state and she’s seen many teachers leave the profession or not come into teaching all together.

Utah’s teacher shortage can be traced back to at least 2007, said Jason Brown, the vice president of communication at Envision Utah, a Salt Lake City think tank which focuses on public policy and population growth.

Utah needs 3,000 new teachers each year, but Utah teacher training programs are only graduating half that amount, Brown said. While districts can find applicants from less traditional routes, it’s not always enough to offset the number of teachers on their way out of their classrooms.

About 12 percent of Utah teachers leave the profession each year, according to research by the organization. It also found that almost half of Utah teachers quit within the first five years.

In 2016, Utah fell short of 1,672 teachers.

Envision Utah surveyed 4,100 college students in January 2018. Less than half — 44% — said they said considered become a teacher. Of that group, almost a quarter of respondents said they didn’t follow through with that career path because teacher salaries are too low.

“So from a recruiting standpoint, the No. 1 thing that we could do to help address shortage is raise teacher salaries,” Brown said.

Photo of John Teign.
Credit Rocio Hernandez / KUER
Shawn Teign with the Utah Foundation researched Utah’s teacher pay compares with other states.

Utah’s average teacher pay, $47,604, was significantly lower than the national average, $60,483, between 2016 and 2017, according to an April report by the Utah Foundation, a nonprofit, public policy research organization. The report also found that Utah’s average teacher pay was among the lowest in the Mountain West region. Wyoming led the pack with an average teacher pay just under $60,000.

But regardless of where teachers are, Teigen said they are being paid less than college grads in other professions.

Here in Utah, private sector pay rose by nearly 10% between 2010 and 2016, according to Utah Foundation’s report. Meanwhile, Utah educators saw a less than 4 percent increase.

“When somebody is deciding what college track they are going to go on, and sees that pay differential and decide, ‘You know what, teaching is not for me,’” Teigen said.

While pay increase for teachers is one way to draw new people into the profession and keep existing teachers in their classrooms, Envision Utah also recommends the state’s education leaders also increase mentorship and professional development opportunities. It also suggests districts improve working conditions in schools and find ways to draw great, former teachers back into the classroom.

With this year’s round of teacher pay raises, Brown is optimistic that Utah is on track to address the shortage.

“We’ll have to see if the ballpark that people are arriving at, around $50,000, is the magic number,” Brown said. “And if it is, then I think we are going to need to figure out how to make that every district can get up to that point.”

Graph showing Utah is last in teacher pay.
Credit Utah Foundation
Utah Foundation’s report found that Utah's teacher pay ranks last among the Mountain West.

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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