"We want Granite to become the destination and school district of choice," he said. "This pay scale will bring that in line so that we should be attracting the best teachers."
The larger-than-typical raises partially are a response to similar plans to boost entry-level salaries at Jordan School District and Canyons School District. Jordan was first to make its plans known, which led to what some Salt Lake County educators have privately described as an "arms race."
Horsley said increased state funding allows for a 3 percent cost of living adjustment in teacher pay. The additional 8.5 percent raises approximately $19 million combined will be drawn from school district coffers.
To fund the raises, Horsley said, the school board is considering a $16 million tax increase, which is estimated to cost about $75 to $100 annually for a $250,000 home.
"The board considered other options," Horsley said. "But the fact is, we stripped $60 million out of our budget during the recession and we've not yet recovered from that."
The Canyons district has proposed raising its starting teacher salary to $40,000 a year while giving other teachers a pay raise. Plans in Jordan School District call for boosting starting pay to $40,000 as well, along with consolidating the district's salary schedules commonly known as "lanes" and lifting the salary cap for veteran educators.
The district and Jordan teachers union neared consensus on the plan last week, but resistance has emerged from midcareer educators who say they stand to lose money due to more incremental annual salary bumps, known as "steps."
Jordan's proposal will cost the district an additional $10 million each year in personnel costs. Budget initiatives will pay for the changes initially, but school board President Janice Voorhies said a tax increase in Jordan would be likely in the next four or five years.
Horsley said news of salary proposals in Jordan and Canyons had already affected Granite. About 200 new teachers have applied to work in the district, compared with an estimated 300 job openings this fall, and veteran Granite educators have announced their intentions to pursue jobs in neighboring districts, Horsley said.
"We have to be competitive. We're an at-risk school district," he said in reference to the district's disproportionate percentage of low-income students.
Granite also offers a $1,000 stipend to teachers who work in Title 1 schools, a classification based on high levels of poverty. And Horsley said the district plans to take advantage of a new Legislature-approved program that would extend $5,000 bonuses to high-scoring teachers who work in low-income communities.
"We're hoping that, in addition to the increase in pay," Horsley said, "teachers will consider their long-term critical decisions."
In a prepared statement, Granite School District Superintendent Martin Bates said market forces are driving Granite to take action to ensure that classrooms are fully staffed.
"We appreciate our board of education's unwavering commitment to superior instruction by ensuring we can attract and retain the best teachers in the state," he said.
Granite Education Association President Susen Zobel said the proposed raises are among the largest Granite teachers have received since 1960. She praised district officials for their collaboration with union leaders on what she described as the best-negotiated pay schedule in the state.
"We are proud," she said, "of the working relationship we have with Granite School District."