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SALT LAKE CITY — Nancy Brich spent her first summer as a college graduate working part-time at a retail store, at a gym and as a tutor part-time
Anything to pay for rent and bills before she can officially start her career in the classroom when the recent Southern Utah University graduate begins teaching special education for a middle school within the Granite School District next week.
It’s an opportunity she’s excited for as the first step of her career swiftly approaches.
“My main motivation is what’s going to make me happy and feel like I’m making a difference, which is teaching within the special needs. ... It’s about the passion and wanting to help make a better future for these kids," Brich said, speaking of the field with passion as anyone who has discovered their life’s calling.
While the buzz is there, she said it’s clear there are concerns within the field and salary is among the top concerns plaguing Utah’s teachers. It’s also an issue that played out in a salary arms race throughout Utah’s more populated school districts as schools eyed to pay teachers more.
About a dozen of Utah’s highest-populated school districts all voted to raise salaries for the upcoming year — bringing starting salaries into the $40,000 range in the Wasatch Front and a little more than $50,000 in Park City alone.
Here are some of the summer's highlights:
- Granite School District raised salaries by 11.67 percent. Starting pay jumped to $41,000.
- Salt Lake School District raised salaries by 9 percent, upping starting pay to $43,800.
- Tooele School District raised pay by 9.06 percent. Starting pay rises from $33,100 in 2016 to $37,000.
- Canyons School District raised starting pay 4 percent and current employees' pay 6.5 percent. Starting pay rose to $40,500.
- Davis County School District increased starting pay from $34,000 to $38,000, as well as giving current teachers a 3 percent raise to cover cost of living and a $500 one-time stipend.
- Jordan School District increased salaries for new teachers by $5,000. The lowest pay is $40,000 for the 2017-18 school year.
- Park City School District increased salary by $7,000 bringing its starting pay to a state-leading $50,700.
The study noted 56 percent of Utah’s teachers who began teaching during the 2007-2008 school year were no longer teaching in Utah by 2015. Of those who left, only 7 percent switched over to administration and the rest had left the Utah public education system completely over the eight-year span, according to the study.
However, Matthews is also quick to point out the increases over the summer were centered mostly around the Wasatch Front and not in Utah’s rural areas, where pay can be as low as $30,000 or less for new teachers. Increasing teacher salaries in rural areas is a step she said she hopes happens one day, especially with her concern teachers in rural Utah will leave for now higher-paying jobs in the urban areas.
“While I think it’s a very exciting step in the right direction, I think we need to look at long-term permanent solutions to our teacher shortage and funding issues in Utah; so this is an option for all districts to offer competitive salaries and be able to attract teachers to their district and not just some,” she said.
Teachers across the state may also receive a $4,200 Educator Salary Adjustment bonus from the state if they meet legislative requirements.
She also fears that it won’t do enough to address other issues teachers and schools are facing. For those in the field, Matthews said large class sizes have piled on workloads for Utah’s educators and limits their ability to connect 1-on-1 with their students.
Meanwhile, Utah’s teachers aren’t just leaving, there are fewer college students trying to get into the field. That’s a trend not just in Utah but across the country.
On average, a little more than 104,200 education degrees were handed out per year by U.S. universities from 2004-2005 to 2012-2013, according to National Center for Education data. It’s a similar number to mid-1980s and '90s statistics.
The number of students receiving education degrees then slipped to 98,838 in 2013-2014 and 91,623 the following year.
“Salary increases — oh my gosh — they are welcomed and they are certainly valued, but we need to look at the other reasons as to why people aren’t entering the classroom and why they are leaving so early in such increasing numbers,” Matthews said.
That hasn’t deterred college graduates like Brich, who changed majors from biology to education mid-college to work in the field. Originally from Rancho Cucamonga, California, Brich’s mother taught special education, and she quickly realized teaching had rubbed off on her.
“I thought about teaching and then started teaching and everything was great and I loved it. It motivated me to work hard and I did well," she said, noting she struggled in school before she found the right career to focus on.
She moved to the Salt Lake Valley to student teach last year and graduated in May before finding her first teaching job.
Growing up in a teacher’s household, she said she knew it wasn’t the field to bring in money and it came with plenty of work.
“I don’t think people understand the background work to be a teacher and maybe that’s why people think they don’t deserve more,” Brich says.
However, around the same time she landed a job, her employer, the Granite School District, announced its 11.67-percent increase in teacher pay across the board.
"We appreciate the support and dedication by the board of education to ensure that every classroom and every student has a committed high-quality teacher to support academic achievement in Granite," said Martin Bates, the district's superintendent in a statement at the time.
That was pleasant news for Brich, who stayed in school an extra year to become certified in teaching special education — racking up more student loan debt along the way.
“(It) helps me pay my student loans,” she said. “I haven’t figured it out yet, but it’s going to help me pay it off a lot quicker for sure, which decreases my interest and other things that would add up my loans and make things more expensive, so overall it really helps and that was something I took into consideration.”
When school districts began announcing pay increases for incomers and current staff, Matthews said she knew of current teachers who were able to quit second jobs. The increases also hit home for her family, when her husband received the $7,000 increase from Park City School District.
She said those decisions have increased morale within districts involved because in the end money speaks volumes, even if it's not the cure-all to Utah's recent education shortage.
“I think the relationship with the districts, the school boards and the educators have been really strengthened because there’s this recognition of value and that we are valued,” Matthews said. “As much as we hate to say it, money is a way that (shows) value. When compensation is increased, it goes a long way for assuring that importance and that important role that teachers play.
“That definitely has been inspiring.”