In what seems to be shaping into a serious arms race to raise teacher pay, Granite School District announced Thursday that it would increase its annual salary for starting educators to nearly $43,500.

That’s a smaller hike — both in percentage and total wage — than what nearby Canyons School District unveiled a day earlier. But the package comes without raising property taxes, boasted Karyn Winder, president of Granite’s board of education, and includes access to a new health care center where coverage for staff is free.

“Prospective and current employees who take a moment to net out salaries and benefits like this medical clinic will see that Granite has the best compensation and healthiest employees and families along the Wasatch Front,” Winder suggested.

The district’s pay bump, a tentative agreement between its school board and local teachers association, will be a roughly $1,500 increase for starting teachers (up from $41,900 annually) and about $2,500 more for veterans (ending at $84,255 as a maximum). Additionally, it will include a 3% holiday bonus.

The latest move in the so-called “salary wars” comes amid statewide challenges in hiring teachers. The biggest districts around Utah are competing with one another as they negotiate salaries to retain and attract the best educators.

Canyons announced Wednesday that it would boost its starting pay for incoming teachers to $50,000 through a property tax bump. Granite falls about $6,500 short of that, but it now has edged above Jordan School District at $42,800. Park City School District remains the highest in the state at $50,700.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Many districts, including Jordan and Salt Lake City, are still brokering potential hikes. This is the third consecutive year that Utah districts have attempted to outbid one another.

“When salaries go up in one district, it benefits education all the way around,” Jordan spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said Wednesday.

While the negotiations for Granite have wrapped up, the hike will have to be approved at the next board meeting May 7. If it passes, it’s set to take effect in the fall.

The district’s compensation package includes the salary, $285 monthly family health care premiums and free access to its new medical center, set to open in a few weeks. The news release notes: “So, 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.”

According to a recent survey by Envision Utah, more teachers are leaving Utah classrooms than ever before and one of the biggest reasons they cite is low pay. The state now has a shortage of 1,600 educators with the imbalance expected to get worse.

Currently, the average annual median salary for a public school teacher is about $54,000, Envision Utah found, which includes those who have been in the classroom for years. That’s nearly $6,000 below what is considered a living wage in the state.

The Utah Education Association, the largest teacher union in the state, encourages districts to raise salaries to “stop the bleeding” of talented educators leaving the profession. President Heidi Matthews said: “It’s the critical first step that we need to be taking.”