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UTAH COUNTY — Traci Parkinson has 28 years of classroom experience and a master's degree. But when she finishes teaching for the day, she changes into a T-shirt, grabs a garbage bin and starts her part-time job as school custodian.

"The pay just is not there," she said. "It's wrong that they can have a master's and have to do something like this."

She does it to help support her family while doing the job she loves.

Fellow elementary teacher David Cichoski shares her passion. And that's why he works part-time at Costco.

"It takes away 25 hours a week that I could be spending with my own kids," he laments. "That's the toughest part for me."

These teachers illustrate why many Utah schools face what is becoming a crisis: they can't hire and retain quality teachers.

According to the State Office of Education, 40 percent of newly hired teachers quit within the first five years. And about 1,000 veteran teachers retire each year.

As a result, Utah Foundation reports, half of Utah districts have non-certified teachers in our children's classes.

"I think we understand the risk of having teachers who aren't well-qualified teaching our kids," said state auditor John Dougall.

He heard about a teacher shortage and commissioned a report to figure out why it was happening. His office compared beginning teacher salaries with entry-level wages in other professions. They found teachers make half of those with computer science and engineering job and among the lowest of those with college degrees.

"We need to get serious about fixing these problems," Dougall said.

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But Dougall does not look to the state Legislature for more funding for teacher salaries. He wants school districts to use differential pay to address the shortage.

He believes if school districts could find a way to pay more to those teachers in math and science, the subjects hardest to fill, there wouldn't be a shortage.

"The system really needs to start talking about differential pay," he said.

But that idea hits a flat note with music teacher John Bowman and leaders in the Utah Education Association.

UEA spokesman Mike Kelley acknowledged differential pay may work for a few people weighing whether to go into a science profession or to teach science. They believe the approach may actually exacerbate an already suffering teacher morale.

Bowman said he wishes instead lawmakers would ask the question, "What value does this provide to society?"

"I'd love them to come see what it's like," Bowman added. "It's a lot to deal with."

Teachers no longer recommend the profession to their own children or students.

"Especially in the last 10 years, I would absolutely say no," Parkinson said.

And young people seem to be getting that message.

Utah Policy found the University of Utah's College of Education had 914 undergraduate students in 2006. Ten years later, at a time when the need is much greater, they had a third of those students, 336 undergraduates.

So for now, these teachers will continue juggling jobs because they love to teach, but the fear is the younger generation won't.

Editor's note: Alpine School District provides a salary schedule of how much teachers can expect to make with their years of experience and education. Click here for more information.

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Nadine Wimmer

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