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Most teachers in Utah to see raises below 5%

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Teachers in just three school districts can expect raises mirroring the Legislature's per-student funding increase.

Half of Utah's 40 school districts have firmed up teacher contracts. Of them, Murray and Emery — which gave a 1 percent pay raise last year — will give teachers a 5.5 percent raise, the Utah Education Association reported Tuesday. Salt Lake City teachers reached a tentative agreement for the same amount.

But they are the exception. The state average pay raise is 4.73 percent, said Jim Eldredge, government relations director for the 19,000-member teachers union. Some districts are struggling to fund even 2 percent raises because of rising insurance premiums and declining enrollment.

By contrast, the Legislature approved a 5.5 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit, the state's basic per-student funding formula.

Much of the WPU goes to teacher salaries, but not all. Still, WPU hikes are tossed around publicly as the same thing as a raise.

"I understand it from the legislative standpoint. They'll say they put 11 percent into education (budgets), and that's absolutely true," said Jim McDonald, president of the eastern Utah union branch. "But it doesn't necessarily translate into salaries for teachers, recruitment or retention for teachers. That's the part that's frustrating."

Consider: San Juan teachers will receive a 2.83 percent pay raise. North Summit teachers will see a 3 percent raise. Districts including Alpine, Nebo, Provo, and Davis are in the 4.5 percent range; South Summit and Park City teachers will receive a 5 percent raise.

Jordan Education Association leaders are at a conference this week and unavailable for comment. But they reached a tentative agreement to hike pay 4.3 percent, Granite Education Association executive director Pat Arakaki said.

Union chapters representing just under 60 percent of teachers have firm or tentative contracts, Eldredge said. Raises reported are averages and do not include benefits.

"I think with all things considered, the teachers did well, even in San Juan," said Chris Watkins, director of the southeastern Utah union branch. "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip."

Several districts, however, squeezed out what they could. And things could get worse, particularly considering Utah is competing with wealthier states for a short supply of teachers.

San Juan and Granite school districts, plus mining communities in Emery and Carbon, are losing students and the money that comes with them. Carbon, for instance, eliminated the equivalent of seven teachers, Watkins said.

Granite has lost 8,500 students since 1993, and declines are expected through 2005, Arakaki said. The district lost $1.6 million in per-pupil money this year. Utility and insurance costs are rising, adding to budgetary woes.

The union proposes raising property taxes, Arakaki said. Cutting school programs and boosting class sizes also could be part of the discussion to increase teacher salaries.

Granite's budget includes a 1.4 percent teacher pay raise; replacing 35 library media specialists with aides would bring salary hikes to 2 percent.

Granite also could discuss paring insurance coverage, as Emery and Carbon did this year to improve teacher pay.

But doing so may corner districts. San Juan clipped insurance plans last year, and this year ran out of extra money resources, Watkins said.

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com