Park City affected by teacher shortage
With the state gearing up for another legislative session and teacher shortages getting worse according to a new report from the University of Utah, it’s no wonder Gov. Jon Huntsman has recommended that $3.7 billion of the $11.7 billion state budget go toward public education.
But where does Park City fall in terms of the teacher shortage? According to Superintendent Ray Timothy, it is a continuing problem. He said the district is not fully staffed right now. "A couple of vacancies just opened up for an English teacher at the high school and a speech and language teacher," he said. "We’re trying to fill the positions through advertising, but this time of year, it’s hard to do."
Statewide there is a constant need for math, science and technology teachers, and especially special education teachers, he said. School Board President Kim Carson initially thought Park City would not be affected by math and science shortages, but "it has kind of caught up with us in the past couple of years."
Overall, Timothy said that Park City loses about one-third of its teachers within the first five years, and there aren’t many that reenter the profession after they have left.
One of the problems with that, says Mike Holland, head of the Park City Education Association, is that the district puts a lot of money into training in the first three years of teaching.
Park City not only has to deal with teachers leaving to find other professions, but also leaving to work at another school district. "We’re always competing with other districts, and most of our teachers have to commute," Timothy said.
Because of gas prices, commuting is becoming a major deterrent, says Holland. "In the past, we could get teachers from Salt Lake and Heber to come and work in Park City, but in the last couple of years, we’ve seen a huge increase in prices," he said. "Eventually they’re going to say it’s not worth it anymore, and some have already decided that."
He said a large population of commuters come from Salt Lake, which also happens to be the school district Park City competes with most for teachers according to Timothy. "When you just look at salary, Salt Lake looks like it’s right with us," Timothy said. "But that’s not including benefits," which, he explained, are very expansive packages for Park City teachers.
"Many teachers come here because statewide we do offer a pretty good compensation package, but then they realize they can’t live here," Holland said.
School teachers and administrators agree that cost of living is a major factor in teacher retention. "It’s a lot more expensive to live down here than in Salt Lake," Timothy said. "That’s why the affordable housing issue is so important for our district."
Holland says that, right now, Park City is just not a permanent place for teachers to settle down. "Realistically, how are they going to make a nest egg here?" he asked. "Trying to figure out how to attract people to come to Park City and live here and how to get people who would normally commute that’s a big hurdle and we haven’t found the answer to it yet."
Carson said that the board is exploring some employee housing options with the county and city, but that they are in the very beginning stages. She said that at one point the district did own some buildings that employees lived in.
Timothy said that attracting and retaining teachers is a major focus for the district, and if teachers could afford to live here, become part of the community and get to know the people, that could really help retention. Carson agrees that one of the positives of being a teacher in Park City is how supportive the community is.
Increasing compensation is one idea being bounced around by both Park City administrators and state legislators to help alleviate the teacher shortage.
One of Timothy’s goals is to have the highest salary in the state, which Holland agrees is an important step toward attracting teachers.
"Park City needs to have the highest salary schedule bar none, and we need to continue to promote our benefits, like the health coverage and retirement plan. This is something Holland feels is going to be a necessity for luring teachers to Park City. "With the situation that we’re in, they’re just going to have to face that salaries need to be raised.
"I think the big thing for someone who’s applying to Park City is that they need to see a very nice salary. They’ve got to be like ‘wow, this is really worth it.’"
Teachers’ salaries are based on the number of years experience they have. "Last year, we eliminated the first two steps, so that teachers coming in this past year started on a step three," business administrator Patty Murphy said.
That means instead of starting with a step one (first-year status) salary, new teachers are bumped up to a step three (third-year status) salary. They then stay at that salary schedule for two years, and after their third year, they get a step increase each year, which is the normal salary schedule for teachers, Murphy said.
She said this year the average teacher salary including benefits and taxes is about $55,000. Next year’s salaries depend on how much the district will get from the state. There is a process of negotiations in the spring, and then the board approves any salary changes.
One of the board’s worries about raising salaries is the legislative repercussions if they "go too far," Holland said. "If one year, Park City gave a 10-percent raise and the rest of the state gave a two-percent raise that could cause problems.
"There is a need Park City is going to have to face. We’ve got 30 to 40 people retiring within the next two to three years. How to attract new teachers and how to keep them here is a major concern."
Legislative miscalculations result in missing funds
Salary raises and bonuses fall short
One of the high priorities of the new legislative session is to rectify the miscalculations made in the $1,000 one-time bonus and $2,500 raise in salary for public school teachers this year. A letter of legislative leadership was signed promising that in this next session, they would come up with additional funds.
Superintendent Ray Timothy said the miscalculation occurred because the state did not originally include all teachers when estimating how much money they would need. "They only included ‘traditional’ teachers," he said. "Counselors, media core curriculum specialists, speech language therapist they were all left off the list."
Timothy said that while they expanded the definition of what a teacher is and who would qualify, no additional funds were brought in to compensate for the added teachers. This cause the legislature to come up about $2.4 million short for bonuses and $20 million short for salary raises.
The amount of money each district would receive from the state was based on the projected number of qualified teachers it would employ. Timothy said they just got the final numbers from the state and because Park City’s estimation of teachers was too high, the district’s allocation will be very close to the original raise of $2,500.
Each teacher will receive just slightly more than $2,300, which will be distributed monthly throughout the year. Their bonus, which will be just over $900 after taxes, will appear on their December checks.
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