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Salaries rising for teachers but still low

A study released this week by the American Federation of Teachers says that Utah teacher salaries have increased by more than $10,400 in the past decade, the 14th highest increase in the country.

Still, at $32,981 per year, Utah ranks 39th on a nationwide list that compares teachers' average salaries. At $51,727 annually, Connecticut takes the No. 1 spot. South Dakota, at $27,839, is listed last.Utah's wages for beginning teachers -- at $22,843 -- lends credence to the report by the country's second-largest teacher's union that college graduates are being lured away from teaching by high-paying jobs in the private sector.

"Teaching is enormously gratifying, and many more would make it their career choice if they felt they were treated like professionals," said Sandra Feldman, AFT president.

The AFT study found that across the country, first-year teachers made $25,735 on average in 1997-98, compared with $42,862 for new engineering graduates and $40,920 for new computer scientists and $34,843 for accountants.

The national average salary for all teachers in the 1997-98 school year was $39,347, according to the union. In other professional fields, lawyers earned $71,530, engineers made $64,489 and computer systems analysts drew an average paycheck of $63,072.

"A teacher shortage clearly exists, especially in large urban districts," says the survey, which was compiled with information from state education departments and the U.S. Department of Defense survey of teacher salaries. More than two-thirds of the respondents to AFT questions indicated an insufficient supply of teacher applicants last year.

AFT's salary study comes on the heels of a public spat between the Utah Education Association and the Utah Taxpayer's Association over the amount of tax money given to Utah schools.

The taxpayer's watchdog group said in the report that Utah taxpayers generously fund public education and that teachers' compensation is the second highest of eight mountain states.

UEA officials called the report by the taxpayer's watchdog group "a smoke screen" to divert attention from low teacher salaries. They also questioned the methodology of compiling the numbers for the report.