February 22, 2008
The $2,500 state-funded raise Park City High School visual art teacher Sue Galusha was expecting in next year’s salary schedule is now unlikely. Galusha said the probable change is "too bad, but it won’t change my life." She added that she doesn’t count on things like that until it’s in her hands. "I just look at my regular salary," she said.
The idea to shift proposed salary increases occurred this week after legislators learned they will have $340 million less to spend because of the slowing economy. This miscalculation has lawmakers wiping their brows trying to figure out what to fund from a $1-billion wish list in order to keep all their constituents happy during an election year.
"Now the question is give and take," Park City School District Superintendent Ray Timothy said. "They are still working on the final budget and haven’t made a determination of priority yet."
Teachers might have reason to be agitated with the new budget breakdown. While the state already took action when they adopted the base budget to finish funding the $2,500 salary increase they promised to teachers this year.
The plan to continue increasing salaries by that amount for the 2008-2009 school year doesn’t seem likely to happen now. There were already talks in the GOP House caucus Tuesday about lowering it to $1,500, but even that is uncertain at this point.
This new budget also might not be able to support Gov. Jon Huntsman’s plan for a 7-percent weighted pupil unit increase, which is estimated to cost about $178.5 million. The $2,500 salary hike would chip away about $86 million from the budget.
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Park City School District Business Administrator Patty Murphy said that this is one of the reasons the state’s salary increase is displayed as a separate column in the teachers’ salary schedule "because it could go away."
Galusha said besides personal implications, this could affect teacher recruitment as well. "I worry about getting good people in the district with so many people retiring and salaries not appealing to young people.
"You feel like you’re making leaps," she said about teachers’ salaries, "but you’re still treading water with the cost of inflation."
One of the teachers Galusha is referring to is AP economics teacher and academic decathlon coach, John Krenkel. He said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the legislature’s position on the salary increase, but he doesn’t blame them.
"The overall tax burden is pretty comparable to the rest of the country," he said. "But, you have to take our tax collections and divide them up among families with an average of four kids. So even though you have the same tax collection, there is less per child to spend."
Either way, he continued, it’s not going to impact him one way or another because he plans to retire at the end of this school year. Krenkel said he had planned on teaching until he was 65, but when he did the math, he figured out that by staying, he’d almost be taking a loss.
"I tried to fight it, but it’s not a fight I can win," he said. "But I’m really happy. Retiring early has opened up some possibilities to get out and be young enough to do other things."
He says many of his colleagues at the high school feel the same way. "There could be as many as 10 to 15 teachers retiring at the high school this year. Some are doing it for health reasons, but others are just looking at the fact that their retirement income would be equal to what the district is paying them."
Teacher recruitment and retention is an issue across Utah. Timothy said the promise of an ongoing $2,500 salary raise and 7-percent per pupil funding increase were meant to continue working toward bringing Utahn teachers’ salaries up to the other Western states’ average because Utah is currently in last place.
And depending on how the Legislature distributes this latest round of funding cuts, that may not change.