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Teacher Salary Hikes Reveal Local School Boards’ Lack of Vision

Three of Utah’s local school boards have launched the second phase of salary wars, believing that boosting starting teacher salaries to $50,000 annually will magically vanquish mediocre student achievement. Other districts may follow.

Near the end of April, Canyons School District announced it would raise taxes to increase starting salaries to $50,000 and all existing teachers $7,665 annually for a 14.2% pay raise.  A few days later Murray School District met Canyon’s $50,000 proposed a property tax hike to increase all teachers pay by nearly $7,000. Not to be left out, the lower-funded Jordan School Board announced a starting salary of $45,000 without a tax increase plus another boost to $48,875 to be funded through a proposed property tax hike.

The $50,000 does not include the more than 40% medical and retirement benefit package which brings total beginning compensation to more than $70,000 annually.  The teaching contract of 186 days at $50,000 starts teachers at an hourly rate of $270 per day or $33.60 an hour. Remember this is a starting salary.  Teachers are not poorly paid compared to other professionals for time worked.  However, other professionals are not laid off for nearly a third of the work year without compensation and unable to collect Unemployment Compensation. 

Put in perspective, a full work year is 260 days or 2,080 hours.  Teachers are contracted to work only 186 days or 1,488 hours.  However, when a new teacher’s starting daily rate of $270 is multiplied by a full work year of 260 they make the equivalent annual starting salary of $70,200.  How many professionals do you know who start at $70,000 on the first day?

Higher Pay From Tax Hikes with No Planned Educational Improvement

With these increases, Canyons and Murray average teacher pay is expected to be as much as $50 an hour or $400 per day.  Jordan’s wouldn’t be far behind.  This daily rate multiplied by a full 260 day work year would equate to $104,000.

In the business world such increases would be tied to improved performance measures but just as with the salary wars two years ago, the pay hikes anticipate that teachers will continue to do what they are currently doing, no additional days are required and the increased pay is not tied to any type of performance improvement.

District professionals and school board members we have spoken with admit nothing additional is expected. They say the higher pay will improve the future pool of candidates for hire, help overcome the current teacher shortages and motivate good teachers to stay in the profession.  It’s true that higher pay over time will attract more qualified teachers to enter and stay in the profession, but unlike the business world, the poor teachers are to receive the same incentive to stay in the profession. These school boards are missing significant opportunities; failing to use the higher pay to induce improved instruction.

Everyone knows that teacher shortages do not exist in all subjects.  Yet school boards granting these pay raises are doing nothing to differentiate pay to ensure they attract highly qualified personnel to fill severe shortage subjects like math, science, computer science, and special education teachers. Instead, these school boards allow the union tail to wag the dog.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers as I regularly visit Utah schools is that with all the duties of managing a classroom for more than 6 hours a day, they simply don’t have enough time to prepare effective instruction, time to evaluate student performance data and time to learn best practices. Yet none of the districts granting these huge pay increases are using the money to add days to the teacher contract for preparation, evaluation, and professional learning. In fact, Canyons is actually cutting two days out of the contract! 

School board members we have met with say that the teacher union is adamant about not adding days to the contract; they just want more pay for current days. And yet the typical district union membership is only 25% to 35% of teaching staff.  School boards are not required to negotiate with a bargaining unit that doesn’t represent a majority of teachers, yet school board members don’t have the backbone to call the union’s bluff.  Local school boards seem to care more about the union than the majority of teachers who chose not to belong, or the students they’re supposed to serve, or the voters who elected them. 

With rare exceptions, local school boards are in a crisis of leadership and utterly without the vision to improve educational outcomes.  Their school performance is nothing to brag about. We are not getting great results out of Utah schools.  The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that 59% of Utah 4th graders are not proficient in math and 54% are not proficient in reading.  As students move through the grades, results get worse.  A whopping 61% of Utah 8th graders are not proficient in math while 62% are not proficient in reading.

In what morally inverted world would a school board hike taxes to pay employees to do the same job they’ve been doing all along?  It’s time taxpayers speak up and demand accountability of our local school boards. 

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