Beginning teachers begin to see better salariesOct 02, 2018 01:08PM ● By Jana Klopsch
Sarah Mortensen, Jordan Valley music teacher, instructs students in December 2017. Teachers in school districts across Salt Lake County have received pay increases over the past few years. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Janice Voorhies began her teaching career in Alpine School District in 1969, a time when it was the lowest-paying school district in a state with the lowest teacher salary in the nation.
“I arguably was—for a brief while—the lowest paid teacher in America,” she said.
Voorhies is now Board of Education president for Jordan District and was thrilled to announce a pay increase for Utah teachers for the 2018-2019 school year.
The raise includes an $875 step increase for every teacher and a $2,500 cost-of-living adjustment for every licensed employee for a total raise of $3,675.
“We had a goal to retain quality teachers and attract new teachers,” Voorhies said. “This compensation is something I never could have dreamed of when I started my first-year salary at $4,800.”
When the package was announced, some teachers argued the raise was unfair because, by percentages, new teachers got a bigger raise than experienced teachers.
Others, like Jordan Ridge Elementary’s Laurie Christensen, thought it was a great package. With the announcement, she reminded her colleagues that it incentivizes college students to enter and remain in the profession.
“We’ve got to shift our view,” she said. “We’ve got to look at what's best for all of the educators out there.”
West Hills Middle teacher Victor Neves has been teaching for 27 years. He said before the raise last year, he was making about twice as much as a first-year teacher.
“I certainly don’t work twice as hard as first-year teachers,” he said. “I’d say I work about one-tenth as hard as first-year teachers. And because I know what I’m doing, I think I teach better than them — but not twice as well as them.”
In Canyons District, first-year teacher Whitney Lott will be teaching Midvale Middle School eighth-graders.
“My contract begins Aug. 17 and already I’ve been getting the room ready,” she said in late July, adding that she has read the core curriculum, a teaching strategy book and will have attended a teaching “base camp” before her contract begins. “Being a new teacher may be more work than a veteran as I’m learning everything and creating a curriculum while veteran teachers usually are not on the same learning curve. (But) I truly, truly believe this is the one of the most important jobs we can do.”
Neves said the salary arms race among the districts competing for new teachers is encouraging.
“If we’re going to attract and retain new teachers, which we need to do, we have to pay them market rates,” he said.
Voorhies said the board had beginning teachers in mind when they approved the raise.
“It’s never easy for a first-year teacher — financially or with the workload—there’s a huge learning curve,” she said. “But anything we can do to allow teachers to earn more money—they’ll go someplace else if they can’t feed their family.”
Emily Oscarson is a first-year teacher at Golden Fields Elementary in Jordan District, starting at $42,800 a year. She survived on her intern wage last year—50 percent of a teacher’s wage—even while she ran her classroom independently.
“Like any career, you have to work your way up,” she said. “You’re not going to start fresh out of college making some huge salary.”
Utah Education Association spokesman Mike Kelley said that school districts together worked to “set the mark above $40,000 in all school districts here in the valley,” but that starting salary is not across the state as rural school districts may not have the same resources.
Murray Education Association President and Murray High School government teacher Mark Durfey is grateful for the pay raise.
“Murray Education Association members are appreciative of the 2.75 percent raise,” he said, adding there won’t be an additional increase in insurance rates. “With this increase, added to the considerable adjustment from last year’s negotiations, we think Murray is a great place to work.”
Utah teachers have always been quick to point out they are some of the lowest paid in the nation.
According to statistics from EdBuild.org, a nonprofit organization in support of public schools, (see table), Utah’s salary ranking moved up from 35th to 31st when average teacher wages were adjusted for cost of living. However, the study used 2013 wages. The recent raises—nearly 12 percent last year and the additional bump from this year’s packages—may have moved Utah closer to the middle of the pack.
However, there still is a need to make the pay scale equal to those of starting professionals, such as a computer programmer or a medical technician. (see table).
In a recent article, the National Education Association states: “It is true that most educators decide to enter the teaching profession because of a desire to work with children, but to attract and retain a greater number of dedicated, committed professionals, educators need salaries that are literally ‘attractive.’”
In a 2006 NEA study, half of new U.S. teachers are likely to quit within the first five years because of poor working conditions and low salaries.
However, with salaries on the rise, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics study found in 2015 that after three years, only 17 percent of teachers leave their field. The determining factor was money. Their study of 1,900 teachers showed that 97 percent of teachers who earned more than $40,000 their first year returned the next year, compared with 87 percent who earned less than $40,000.
Utah teachers, like Neves, are hopeful additional funding for education will be approved by the state legislature. He said it’s important to ease the burden of the high rent many young teachers are facing.
“The raise is big and it’s great but the legislature needs to step up,” he said. “If we are going to get teachers, we have to pay new teachers enough to pay their rent.”
Voorhies said those employed by taxpayers—police, fire fighters and teachers—have traditionally been underpaid and undervalued by the community.
“I don’t think they have to be rich, but they should be able to make a living so we can encourage good people—people that really care about the community—to work in the fields that will influence our children for better and keep us safe,” she said.