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Utah may be 49th in the nation when it comes to average teacher salaries. But it's near the middle among states in the mountain region when comparing starting and mid-career pay.

That's according to a report released Thursday by the Utah Foundation, a nonpartisan, public-policy research group.

"We are doing better than we thought we were," said Stephen Kroes, president of the foundation.

Utah's average salary is pulled down, he said, because the state has more young teachers who are lower on the pay scale. In more than 90 percent of U.S. school districts, teachers are paid on a salary schedule that goes up as teachers gain experience and education.

The report, "Comparing Teacher Compensation," looks at starting, top and mid-career salaries in Utah, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming using 2007-08 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Among the eight states, Wyoming offers the highest starting pay at $38,000. Utah and Colorado tie for sixth place with $30,100. Utah ranks fourth for average salary for teachers with a master's degree and more than 20 years of experience, $54,000.

"We're not by any means the highest [paying] of the mountain states, but we're near the middle," Kroes said.

The report also compares beginning salaries and retirement benefits for the current school year in Alpine, Canyons, Jordan and Salt Lake City school districts, with a handful in Nevada, Colorado, Idaho and Arizona. Among the eight districts examined, Salt Lake City has the highest starting pay, $37,280 or $43,319 when the district's retirement contribution is included.

"Our board has taken that position of trying to be above the average here in the state," said Patrick Garcia, director of human resources at Salt Lake City district. "We believe that does help us in terms of recruiting top candidates into our district."

Still, he has trouble drawing candidates from states outside of Utah, where the pay is usually better.

"When I go to recruiting fairs and teachers ask about our salary versus other states that are at the booths next to me, that does become an issue," he said.

Elaine Tzourtzouklis, director of Wasatch Uniserv, which serves the Salt Lake Teachers Association, said part of the reason why salaries are higher in Salt Lake is that teachers have agreed to pay a larger portion of their health insurance premium. She also doubts that average teacher salaries in Utah are lower because there's a higher rate of new teachers.

"That's not a true statement of why we're down," she said. "We're down because we're down. … We have the lowest salaries because we've not been given any raise whatsoever in the last three years."

The report notes that salary increases in Utah in the past decade have "lagged behind" five of the other mountain states, as well as national trends.

Utah teachers also were the most likely in the mountain states to have a second job to supplement their income. Twenty-two percent of them work outside the school system, earning an average of $5,800 a year. And 39 percent of Utah teachers earn extra pay within the school system through extracurricular activities, earning an average of $2,000 a year.

The report also found that Utah has the highest rate of districts — 58 percent — offering pay incentives for teaching in a field with a shortage of teachers.

Read the report

O To read "Comparing Teacher Compensation" from the Utah Foundation, go to