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What districts pay teachers makes a difference in how they can use Teacher, Student Success funds

The Utah State Board of Education has agreed to budget nearly $600,000 in unexpended federal mineral lease funds for strategic communications services, an effort Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson calls "important" and "timely."
Qualifying Utah public schools that on average pay teachers below the state weighted average of $57,237 per year will be able to spend up to 40 percent of the new Teacher and Student Success Act funding to increase educator salaries.
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SALT LAKE CITY — This is one of those rare times that less can mean more.

If a school district's or charter school's average salaries are below the state weighted average, they can use up to 40 percent of the new Teacher and Student Success Act funding to increase educator salaries.

Recently, Utah lawmakers appropriated more than $98.9 million in funding for public schools to create and launch local plans intended to improve student achievement under SB149.

The Teacher and Student Success Act legislation was sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, to set into motion the 2018 compromise with Our Schools Now, a citizen initiative group that backed a ballot initiative to raise $700 million-plus for education through increases in income tax and sales tax.

The group agreed not to place the initiative on the ballot and lawmakers placed $65.1 million in a restricted account to fund school-level initiatives. State property taxes were also adjusted to provide ongoing funding for the initiative.

That left a State School Board staff the job of establishing the average teacher salary so schools can plan whether they will spend 25 percent of their funding on educator salaries or up to 40 percent if they meet certain criteria. According to board documents, the average weighted salary statewide is $57,237.19.

State school board staff compared base salaries. The figure does not include retirement contributions or other benefits, and the weighted average will only be used for the first year of the program. The board needs to provide this information to districts and charter boards that are preparing budgets and negotiating working agreements with teachers.

Any public schools can use 25 percent of the Teacher and Student Success Act funding to increase salaries of "school personnel who work directly with and support students in an academic role."

Districts where average teacher salaries are below the state average and where the board agrees to increase its local board property tax levy can use up to 40 percent of the funding they receive for educator salaries.

Certain school districts in counties of the fourth, fifth or sixth classes, which have populations 30,999 and under, and charter schools can also use 40 percent of their funding to increase educator salaries "as long as their average teacher salary of their district or charter school is below the statewide average," Angela Stallings, deputy state superintendent of policy, told the State School Board on Friday.

The funds may not be used for school administration or operational staff, building and maintenance staff, transportation staff, child nutrition services staff, secretarial staff or district-level staff, among others.

Stallings said the State School Board needs to pass an administrative rule to help facilitate the program but how local schools use the money was deliberately left to local control.

"At the end of the day, this is a local governance program. The LEAs (local education agencies) will have some flexibility and some decision points they'll need to decide" as local school board or charter school boards, she said, addressing the board's Finance Committee.

The committee also gave preliminary approval to a board rule that will help facilitate the legislation and establish a mechanism to appropriate the funding, which will be allocated by enrollment.

Twenty-four districts and charter schools have average salaries that exceed the state salary. The average salary in Park City School District was $75,057, the state's highest. Eight of the 24 schools with above-average salaries are charter schools.

Other local districts with average teacher pay above the weighted average salary include Salt Lake, North Summit, Wasatch, Granite, Murray, Alpine, Millard, Weber, Rich, Cache, Canyons, San Juan, Davis, Piute and Juab.

The school with the lowest average salary statewide was Leadership Academy of Utah at $21,141, according to board documents.

Earlier in the day Friday, the full school board reviewed the outcome of the just-concluded legislative session.

Stallings said SB149 was one of five bills she has received the most telephone calls about since the session ended.

While it is a "local control" bill, districts just under to the statewide average salary need to exercise care over time because "nobody can increase it to 40 percent unless their district or charter average teacher salary is below the statewide average," Stallings said.

The board's next monthly meeting is May 2, when it will consider the board rule to implement SB149.