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Utah’s $60,000 solution to keep school teachers from fleeing

Recruiting ‘the best and brightest’ to Utah classrooms — and keeping them there — will take hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve, a new report by Envision Utah says

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Recruiting “the best and brightest” to Utah classrooms — and keeping them there — will take hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve, a new report by Envision Utah says.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Noting that teacher compensation is key to addressing Utah’s teacher shortage, a new Envision Utah report recommends that the state spend hundreds of millions of dollars to boost teacher starting pay to $60,000 annually, bolster retirement benefits and spend some $45 million a year on college scholarships for education majors.

These are just some of the recommendations from the nonprofit regional planning agency’s new report, “A Vision for Teacher Excellence,” which was released Wednesday.

“To provide a world-class education ... we need world-class teachers. But in the middle of booming economic growth, teaching has become a less attractive profession and Utah is in the depths of a teacher shortage — a crisis that threatens to compromise Utah’s educational outcomes,” the report states.

Currently, Park City School District offers the state’s highest starting salary for teachers, which is $50,800 annually.

The report not only recommends raising starting teacher pay $9,200 above that, it also calls for increasing teacher salaries to $110,000 over the course of a career.

According to the teacher compensation task force that shaped the report’s recommendations, a significant infusion in salaries and retirement benefits is needed to make teaching an attractive profession, said Ari Bruening, Envision Utah’s president and chief operating officer.

“The consensus of the group was that if we got to that range, we eliminate compensation as a barrier,” Bruening said.

The task force included Utah education, state and business leaders — among them Fraser Bullock, managing director of Sorenson Capital, who was chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

“At one point, Fraser said to the group, ‘Look, we have a crisis. Let’s stabilize the problem. Let’s stabilize the system. It’s not functioning. If I was trying to fix a company, the first thing I do is stop the hemorrhaging and stabilize it,’” recounted Envision Utah CEO Robert Grow.

The task force explored what steps were necessary to stabilize the profession, Grow said. From there, its members studied “what would I do to optimize it?”

The report notes less than 1,500 new teachers graduate from university teaching programs each year, less than half as many as are needed to fill vacancies by former teachers.

“That’s not to mention the 400 to 450 new teachers that are needed just to accommodate the growth of Utah’s population,” the report states.

It also recommends adjusting educators’ retirement benefits to provide new teachers a more attractive compensation mix.

The report says higher salaries will drive more young people into teaching and enable teacher training programs and schools to be more selective regarding who they train and hire.

“Higher pay will also improve retention and motivate greater effectiveness among current teachers. Teaching will become a more respected profession, and students will be more enthusiastic and engaged in their education,” the report states.

“Teaching will become a more respected profession, and students will be more enthusiastic and engaged in their education.”

Raising salaries and adjusting retirement benefits would require $500 million to $600 million in additional funding annually, which is “above and beyond funds necessary to keep pace with inflation, growth and market wage increases.”

While the report provides an aspirational roadmap, it does not include recommendations on funding the changes to teacher compensation.

“Instead, we provide a guide for the compensation we need to offer teachers in the current market in order to attract our best and brightest into the profession and keep great teachers in the classroom so that all students have access to the education they deserve,” the report states.

The report also includes four strategies to optimize the teaching profession:

  • Build stronger career pathways by increasing teacher leader positions with varied responsibilities and pay, such as consulting teachers, model teachers, department chairs with evaluation roles, etc.
  • Encourage greater family support and involvement in education. Support at home will not only help students perform better but will lighten teachers’ burdens, helping those teachers become more effective and making the profession more attractive.
  • Ensure class sizes are effective for subject area and grade level. Reducing average class sizes across the state by five students could cost as much as $250 million, according to extrapolations from one district’s analysis.
  • Provide adequate support professionals such as aides, counselors, clerical staff, mental health professionals, nurses, social workers and other professionals to provide the services students and teachers need.