SALT LAKE CITY — The bidding war for teachers that has led several northern Utah school districts to significantly raise starting salaries is leaving other districts that haven’t raised pay scrambling to fill classrooms.

Tooele School District Superintendent Scott Rogers told the Utah Legislature’s Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday that 42 educators left for better pay elsewhere, and four left midyear while under contract.

“It sounds and feels a lot to me like a form of cannibalism,” Rogers said. “We’re so competitive with salaries trying to get there, and we can’t get to the $40,000 rate. But we’re having other districts actually email our staff, our whole staff list, and saying, ‘We pay better than your district. Why don’t you come to our district?’ “

The Tooele School District started the school year with 13 substitute teachers because it has been unable to fill vacancies after neighboring school districts raised starting teacher pay to $40,000 a year and above, the Deseret News reported (http://bit.ly/2yp9OKi ).

About 15 percent of Tooele District teachers have alternative forms of teacher certification because the school district could not compete for teachers who have been lured to higher-paying school districts.

After Jordan School District announced that its starting salaries would crack the $40,000 mark, others dug into “couch cushions” to pay that and more, said Matthew Young, a member the Jordan School District Board of Education.

Most school districts in northern Utah offered at least $40,000 to starting teachers, with the highest starting salary offered by Park City School District at $50,000 a year.

While the Utah Legislature in 2017 appropriated a 4 percent increase to the value of the weighted pupil unit — the basic building block of state education funding primarily used for salaries and benefits — the Tooele School District’s local tax base is lacking, Rogers said.

Its assessed valuation per student is well below the state average and among the lowest in the state, he said.

Rogers said he understands why teachers would seek better circumstances but he said he is troubled that teachers under contract would break their commitments. He has referred a handful of such cases to state licensing authorities because he believes it constitutes an ethical breach to violate the terms of their contracts.

Rogers said teachers he has informed will face financial penalties for breach of contract have told him that their new employers will pay the fines on their behalf. Rogers said he has not confirmed whether that has happened.

“What a contract means in Utah for teachers, I really have a question because they don’t seem to be honored,” he said.

In the past, there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” that school districts would not attempt to recruit another district’s teachers after Aug. 1.

“That’s been happening quite a bit,” Rogers said.


Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com