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Three valley school districts increase teacher pay, benefits

Jun 23, 2017 08:55AM ● Published by Travis Barton

William Pettit assists students during web design lesson. (Allie Nannini/City Journals).

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By Mandy Ditto | m.ditto@mycityjournals.com

Three school districts—Granite, Canyons and Jordan—have increased teachers’ pay for the upcoming school year, in an effort to retain and hire enough teachers for growing classrooms in the valley.

Granite School District

Even if every graduate with a teaching degree from Utah colleges and universities chose to stay and teach in Utah, there still wouldn’t be enough to fill classrooms across the state, said Ben Horsley, communications director for Granite School District.

“The reality is that we’ve been in a teacher shortage crisis for quite some time. Granite District has been fortunate that we’ve been able to almost 100 percent staff the last two years,” Horsley said. “Our board feels strongly that every kid deserves a great, instructional leader, a full-time teacher that is there and committed to that class for the full year.” 

However, as the district looked into hiring for the coming year, they found they had about half the applications they would typically receive, and would be short around 100 needed hires to fill positions across the district, he said. The board looked at their options, and seeing that Jordan and Canyons districts were looking to raise their pay as well, decided to make changes.

The increases include the starting salary going up to $41,000 annually, which includes a 3 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) across the board for all teachers and administrators. The board also added an 8.67 percent market adjustment to salary schedule across the board, making it the 11.67 percent increase for all in the district, Horsley said. 

He said the district does anticipate some sort of tax increase through the local levy to offset the costs. The board is looking at any other cuts they can make to pursue other funds, and will use the 4 percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) from the legislature to help with increase, as well as increase in levy.
 
The legislature funds education through the WPU, which is money from the general PACs fund from the state, and that money is given to state districts to pay teachers, fund programs and other needs. Whatever increase the WPU goes up to each year—currently 4 percent—is what teachers can typically expect to negotiate as a raise amount each year. 

As for the increase in the local levy, “it would be anywhere from $75 to $100 on a $250,000 home within Granite School District (boundaries),” Horsley said.

It isn’t just about increasing pay because it’s fair, said Susen Zobel, Granite Education Association president and a seventh-grade history teacher at Bonneville Junior High. It’s about keeping teachers in the districts they work in, while continuing to hire. 

“What Granite did was honor the existing salary schedule and send it all the way across, so every single teacher will see an increase,” Zobel said. “This is a good start, we’ve got a really great salary schedule, if you look at the schedule and starting and where you could retire, it is more comparable to other professional salary schedules. I would hope they keep this momentum up.”

Other states pay at higher rates, even with increases in these districts, meaning that districts in Utah need to be competitive, Zobel said.

“If we are going to get teachers to come, we need to be competitive and Granite has made a great start. Our school board has done an amazing job to make this happen for us this year, but it’s not over,” Zobel said. “I think that this shows what a good working relationship between a teacher’s association and a school district can do to benefit teachers, that regardless this was a collaborative effort between the association and the school district and without that strength of membership in the association, it would not have happened.”

Since the presentation and then official approval of the pay increase this spring, the loss of contracted teachers has slowed significantly, and many who opted out of contracts have come back to the district, Horsley said.  

Canyons School District

Pay increases were approved for Canyons School District on April 25, with increases for beginning teacher’s salaries going to $40,500, said Jeff Haney, director of communications for Canyons School District. Every licensed educator in the district will receive at least a 4 percent increase, though the average increase is at 6.5 percent for teachers across the board, according to their teaching experience and education. 

“The Board of Education believes, and always has believed, it’s important to invest in the district’s people. The reason for that is that we believe the students will benefit, we want our classrooms to be led by the best and the brightest educators that we can attract and retain, especially in this era of a national teacher shortage,” Haney said. 

Along with these pay increases to create a competitive pay schedule, the Canyons District has been working to make sure that other benefits are clear to potential educators since the district creation in 2009, he said. Since voters approved a $250 million bond to renovate and build new schools, the district has almost completed all 13 projects identified in 2010. A new middle school and elementary school will open this upcoming fall, Haney said. Achievement coaches and technology specialists are also at every school in the district to improve the teaching experience, he said. 

As for how the increases will be paid for by the district, taxes aren’t expected to go up as an increase in the local levy. 

“The law governing countywide equalization sunsets at the end of 2017. Under the parameters of this law, and because of increasing assessed valuations, Canyons District expects the certified tax rate to remain virtually unchanged in order to collect the funds necessary to operate the district at the same level of service while also providing a salary increase for teachers,” Haney said. 

Potential teachers from the valley and elsewhere were instantly interested in applying for Canyons District positions when they heard about the increases in the starting salary, he said.
“The students will benefit from this. The vision of the Canyons School District is to make sure that every student graduates college and career ready, and the way to do that is to have amazing teachers in every classroom, in every grade level,” he said. “This new salary schedule will help us attract the best and the brightest to our classrooms.”

 Jordan School District

Jordan School District is no different from others in Utah looking to constantly fill teacher positions, and with their newly approved salary schedule they are hoping to continue to attract quality employees. 

Negotiations for a new salary schedule in the district began with a committee of five teachers from the Jordan Education Association, two administrators and three board members that met every other week through February. The new salary schedule has been officially approved by the Jordan Education Association and the district board, said Janice Voorhies, president of the Jordan School District Board of Education.

The beginning salary has been raised to $40,000 a year, and every teacher on the scale has been moved up through the schedule from that, Voorhies said, effective for the upcoming fall. 
“We are working on a phase two for our experienced teachers with the Jordan Education Association, and our goal is to increase compensation for them through a menu of things they may already be doing or would like to opt into, like mentoring or teacher leadership or curriculum development,” she said, “and we’ll pay them more for that.” 

Another change the board approved was to take away a cap in the salary schedule, so that experienced teachers can now continue to get increased compensation after 15 years of teaching. The district will also be paying for increases in benefits costs for teachers in the coming school year. 

To pay for the increases, the district has adjusted their budget and are “applying a portion of our unassigned resources to increasing teacher pay for the next several years,” Voorhies said. “Additionally, we appreciate the legislature’s generous WPU allotment this past session and we intend to use those taxpayer dollars very carefully in order to continue to support reasonable compensation for all employees.”

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