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South Salt Lake Journal

How did Granite District fare in the 2019 educator wage wars?

May 29, 2019 03:25PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Students at Woodstock Elementary in Granite School District volunteer answers for a guest educator. Granite hopes to recruit and retain quality teachers with a new starting salary of $43,500 and a free employee wellness clinic. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

In April, Granite District announced that they had reached a tentative settlement for setting starting teacher salary at $43,500. Canyons and Murray districts announced they would start teacher salaries at $50,000. The wage wars were on. 

Ben Horsley, GSD’s director of communications, said there’s more to total compensation than salary, such as health insurance. “While other districts may offer larger base pay, Granite teachers will see more options in their health benefits at a lower cost, which means more money in our teachers’ pockets at the end of the day,” Horsley said. 

One innovative way Granite is competing to compensate their teachers is through their Wellness Clinic, which held a ribbon-cutting event on May 13. 

“This clinic is the first of its kind in Utah. All GSD employees and their families can come and receive care, including primary and urgent care, lab work and prescriptions at no cost. It is a major piece of what we will expect will attract employees to Granite for years to come,” Horsley said. 

The clinic is located in the former seminary building at Valley Junior High School on the corner of 4200 South and 3200 West in West Valley. It is scheduled to open for patients before the beginning of the 2019–2020 school year. It will be staffed by clinicians from Premise Health. 

Horsley also said this has all been done without having to raise taxes. Canyons’ and Murray’s increases will both require a property tax increase. 

Mary D. Burbank, assistant dean for teacher education at the University of Utah, said she commends the districts for committing to support the teaching profession by improving compensation. 

“It’s a big leap to increase pay level. It highlights the priority of certified teachers. There’s a shortage of teachers in the community, and actions like this symbolically underscore the importance of the profession,” said Burbank. 

Burbank also said a compensation package may be what makes a teacher choose to work in one district over another. “We’re always looking for new teachers and work closely with our district partners. We value their recognition that it takes work to become a teacher and retain them,” Burbank said. 

John Funk, also of the University of Utah’s teacher education program, said Granite has recently been on the forefront of raising teacher salaries. “It was two years ago the Granite District pushed the envelope by providing a 12% increase to their teaching staff. Other districts knew they would have to compete. I applaud Granite for trying to do something to begin to compensate teachers,” Funk said. 

Funk said he encourages his students, future teachers, to consider the following when interviewing for a job. “Don’t be fooled by the beginning salary. Look closer at the benefits,” said Funk, who found that considering insurance premiums changed take-home pay.

“Also, look at the salary schedule. Compensation (goes up) according to the number of years taught and the level of education the teacher has attained,” Funk said. His studies showed that salary can change significantly based on the district’s pay ladder as early as four years into the job. 

These comments align with Horsley’s, who said he hopes teachers will “do the math” when it comes to picking an employer. “Canyons and other districts’ health insurance costs are such that after paying for them, net pay will be less than what (a teacher) can get in Granite.”

One point of agreement was the need to recruit and retain quality teachers. “We are in a world of hurt right now. Most colleges and universities are down in numbers in their teacher prep programs. The salary amounts may help,” Funk said.