Provo teacher: "Everyone said the pay was bad, but I didn't realize that you get a wage for 180 days - no holidays, no (paid) vacations. If a teacher is ill or injured for longer than sick days covered, they lose 1/180th of their yearly wage each day. It amounts to being laid off every holiday, every summer."
Ask a teacher what he or she thinks about teachers' salaries and you'll probably hear that they're terrible.That's what the Deseret News was told after asking teachers to rank the seriousness of problems facing Utah education. Utah teachers responded that low teacher salaries, along with large class sizes, were the most serious problems facing the state's educational system.
In the national report of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Utah teachers gave a similar report. When asked if their salaries had increased or decreased in the past five years, more than half - 57 percent - said their salaries were lower and 34 percent said they hadn't changed. Only 10 percent said that they had increased.
Their response put Utah teachers in 49th place, ahead only of West Virginia.
Nationally, 59 percent of teachers said their salaries had increased, 26 percent said no change and 15 percent said they had decreased.
Salt Lake teacher: "I love teaching, but I do need to feed my family. I need a suitable salary. I know of no other field of endeavor where the worker must provide his own ongoing training, prepare on unpaid time and buy so many supplies out of his own pocket."
Is the teacher right? Are we underpaying Utah teachers or are their salaries "good enough?" How does their pay compare to that of other Utah workers?
Given the nature of the nine-month teacher contract and other working conditions, the answer isn't neat and simple, but comparisons are possible.
According to figures supplied by the Utah Education Association, the average Utah teacher's salary is $23,374. The average starting salary is $15,300. This school year will be the third year without a pay raise for most Utah teachers.
Only one district - Millard - agreed to give teachers a significant pay boost. Their new contract calls for a 4.5 percent increase, but under the terms of the contract 2.5 percent of that will be taken away if the tax-limitation measures pass.
The average teacher salary is based on an average 184-day contract and does not include extra pay for the five to six career-ladder days outside of the basic contract, athletic stipends, extended-day contracts or year-round contracts.
Dee Burningham, UEA associate director, reports it takes eight years for a teacher to reach the average salary level. He said a new teacher averages about $80 a day and that rises to a top scale of $140 a day.
But because $23,374 is an average of all teachers, those in some districts may reach the top of the pay scale for those with bachelor's degrees and still not be making the average salary.
Nationally, the average annual teacher's salary is $25,900, a difference of $2,526 or 10.8 percent percent higher than a Utah teacher's salary. The national average for a beginning teacher is $18,000, a difference of $2,700 or 17.6 percent higher. National Education Association reports that teachers across the nation will average a 5.5 percent increase.
Although Utah wages tend to be lower than the national average, they are not that much lower. Overall, salaries in Utah are 5 percent lower than the national average, according to the Utah Department of Employment Security.
"A decade ago we were closer to the national average, but we've been losing ground," the Burningham said.
However, when compared to other Utah workers, the salaries, on an hourly basis, appear more favorable.
John T. Mathews, labor economist for the Utah Department of Employment Security, said a fair comparison of teachers salaries to those of other Utah workers must be made on the basis of an annual full-time equivalent.
"Whenever I talk about data I tell people you have to compare apples and apples," Mathews said.
The problem then comes from the fact that the average teacher's salary of $23,374 is for only 184 of the standard 260 working days in a year.
So, that means if the teacher's salary were adjusted to annual full-time equivalent rate, the average annual teacher salary would be $32,921. For the contract teaching hours, a teacher would be making $15.82 an hour.
University of Utah economist Claron E. Nelson disagrees with that way of calculating a teacher's salary, although he said it is accurate.
He said it is misleading because teachers really aren't making $32,921 a year. It ignores the fact that teachers cannot necessarily obtain employment in the summer and other off times to supplement their income.
And if a teacher does moonlight, it isn't at the same rate as his or her teacher's salary.
If, for example, a teacher obtained a second job at $5 an hour and that was added to the teacher's income, a teacher's hourly rate would be $12.07.
Both rates are above the state's hourly wage, however. The Department of Employment Security reports that the average Utah hourly wage is $8.66 an hour. The average rate is figured from all occupations in the 39,000 firms that report to Job Service.
By comparison, other hourly wage figures from employment security and the Industrial Relations Council show Utah workers and their hourly pay rates as: Engineer (Level III), $20.50; computer systems analyst, $16.51; engineer (level II), $15.86; engineer (level I), $14.13; computer programmer, $12.69; accountant, $11.32; auto mechanic, $11.01; registered nurse, $10.25; truck driver, $9.28; and secretary, $7.51.
Salt Lake teacher: "Construction workers know they will not work for several months. Do they seek other employment or budget? Those that I know enjoy the comforts of their home while they have the peace of mind that their unemployment checks will pay the bills. I'm angered that I'm considered less worthy of unemployment than the construction worker. What's the difference?"
Salary comparisons between the pay of new teachers and other workers add another dimension to the salary picture.
A new teacher in Utah makes $15,300 annually. According to figures supplied by the University of Utah Placement Bureau, that beginning salary is far below those earned by other individuals with bachelor's degrees.
The professions and national salary averages are: Accounting, $24,120; banking and finance, $22,812; marketing and distribution, $21,084; journalism, $19,884; advertising, $18,792; mathematics, $26,884; computer science, $27,312; retail sales, $21,648; and financial analysts, $21,480.
Although the Utah salaries are lower in some professions, that isn't universally true, said Sam Morrison, placement center director. In engineering or business, for example, Utah companies must often compete nationally to get top people so they have to pay higher wages.
Hercules or Morton Thiokol, for example, can't afford to pay lower wages or else they could be forced to only hire locally trained workers and that would result in too much company in-breeding, he said.
Morrison said students who seek career guidance at the center often compare salaries in determining their career goals. He particularly remembers one male student, a math major, who was considering becoming a math teacher until he saw the salary scales.
"He said, `Forget it. That's all I needed to know. I've made my decision' and walked out of my office. He didn't even bother to ask his other questions," Morrison said.
Orem teacher: "I teach with a man whose children qualify for a free or reduced lunch. To me, this is a public slap in the face to a college graduate."
For the teacher, the hourly rates are based on the contract only. A total hourly comparison is sticky because most teachers must put in preparation time outside of their school hours. Although, as Mathews pointed out, many professionals put in more than a 40-hour work week, too.
Most contracts call for a 7.5-8 hour-day, said Burningham. Contracts often don't spell out time for lunch or breaks, although some assure a 30-minute lunch.
The teachers' contract day averages 5.5-6 hours in the classroom plus preparation time at school. Some teachers may be required to be at school before or after hours or use time for such things as hall and lunchroom monitoring, but those requirements are up to the principal and aren't defined in the contract, Burningham said.
Of course, the hours spent on school-related activities outside of the school day, including such things as grading papers, preparing lessons, play rehearsals that aren't included in the basic contract.
Burningham said studies conducted in the Davis School District show teachers average a 45- to 46-hour work week, but the range goes from 35 to 70 hours per week at the secondary level to 42 to 55 hours at the elementary school level. The estimates don't include time used for in-service training or college courses.
Of the teachers responding to the Deseret News survey, 43 percent said they spent 10 or more hours a week on outside preparation and school-related activities. Burningham said the best teachers are probably spending 15 or more hours a week.
James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, notes that teachers are being asked to do more for their money these days. Class sizes have increased significantly over the past few years. If the average hourly wage of $15.82 for an elementary teacher were divided by the average class size, 27, the teacher would be receiving $4.70 per child a day - significantly less than baby sitters charge.
The salary issue can become even more muddled when fringe benefits are thrown in. In fact, comparisons to other workers' pay becomes nearly impossible because so many variables exist.
Teachers receive no paid vacation or paid holidays. Burningham said they are allowed an average of 10 paid sick days a year, which may accumulate from year to year. Many districts also give one or two personal-leave days, which may or may not be paid. Some districts require teachers to pay the salary of their substitutes when they take personal time off.
A bone of contention for teachers has been an erosion in medical benefits. For years, the districts paid 100 percent of the employee's medical premium. Because of rising insurance premiums, some districts now require employees to pay a portion of their premiums. Less than one-fourth of the districts offer dental insurance.
Salt Lake teacher: "There seems to be a general feeling that teachers use their salaries to augment what the head of household earns and therefore doesn't deserve to be paid more. Most of my teacher friends are the heads of households. Men with my educational background in other occupations double my salary."
However you slice up the salary package, the final question comes to whether or not Utah teachers' wages are good enough.
Mathews of Employment Security won't answer that question with a simple "yes" or "no." He said, "The market is working. People can compete for any job. Labor demand and supply determine what the level of wages are."
In the free labor market, he said, teachers upset over wages have the opportunity to leave, seeking employment elsewhere. If wages were too low here, Utah would probably be in the midst of a teacher shortage, which it isn't.
Nelson agreed that teachers can seek higher-paying jobs out of state, but the market is imperfect and such decisions aren't made solely on a monetary basis. In determining job benefits, workers consider a whole range of what he calls place-to-live considerations. Among them are proximity of extended family, available housing, personal safety, commuting times, availability of recreational and cultural opportunities.
And, he added, the market is also determined by the value that society places on services and what it's willing to forgo to purchase those services.
"You can buy a Mercedes, a Cadillac or a Yugo, but you may have to forgo certain things to get what you want," the U. economist said.
"The market system is working for what we are willing to buy. If we are satisfied with the system now, then the market is working. If we want a better system, then we'll have to be willing to pay more or if we'll settle for less, then we won't have to pay as much."
Next: Who becomes a teacher in Utah? Is the quality declining or improving. The final installment of a four-part series profiles the profession.