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Administrators in the Davis, Murray and Alpine school districts signed off on teacher raises this week, adding to a cascade of new salary plans that will boost the pay for Utah's public school educators next year.
School board members for Davis and Alpine Utah's two largest school districts voted Tuesday for compensation packages that include cost-of-living adjustments and the funding of scheduled salary increases, commonly known as "steps and lanes." And on Monday, the Murray Board of Education approved a salary package that boosts teacher pay by an average of more than 11 percent.
All three districts also lifted their starting salary levels above $40,000, adding to what has become a new pay floor for teachers in Utah's major school districts.
In a prepared statement, Davis School Board President John Robison said a world-class education requires that schools attract and retain the best educators.
"The impact a great teacher makes can never be underestimated," Robison said, "and we want that to be reflected in a teacher's compensation."
For several years, public school representatives have warned of a growing teacher shortage as districts have struggled to fill open staffing positions while facing a shrinking number of education graduates from Utah's higher-education system.
The shortage is often attributed to low pay and a shortage of school resources in the state, which ranks last in the nation for per-student education spending.
Murray School District business administrator Richard Reese said in a statement that a dip in health care costs combined with a 4 percent boost in state education funding approved by lawmakers created a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for the district to hike teacher pay.
"These new funds allow Murray City School District to provide a significant and much deserved salary increase for all district employees with ongoing monies that require no tax increase," Reese said.
But larger school districts, particularly Granite and Jordan, have indicated that tax increases will be required to sustain increased compensation costs.
Jordan School District was the first to announce its plans to raise salaries, triggering what some educators privately described as an "arms race" among Salt Lake County's school districts.
The Jordan proposal was approved last month as were similar changes in Canyons School District despite pushback from some educators that the focus on early- and late-career pay led to a period of lost wages in the middle of a teacher's tenure.
The Washington County School District board also developed a pay scale with a $40,000 starting salary, which coincides with a new recruiting campaign that compares the clean air and minimal traffic of St. George to the haze and congestion of Salt Lake County.
The latest round of school board votes follow weeks, and in some cases months, of negotiations with teacher associations, with union members voting to ratify the compensation packages by large margins, including a 99 percent approval rating in Davis School District.
Alpine Board of Education Vice President JoDee Sundberg said in a statement that retaining educators and providing competitive salaries is a priority for district administrators.
"We are grateful for the dedicated professionals who help our students reach new heights in learning daily," Sundberg said.