San Juan schools face funding challenges
In addition to dealing with the uncertainties of a worldwide pandemic, the San Juan School District faces financial challenges related to paying competitive wages to teachers.
Superintendent Nielson, Business Administrator Kyle Hosler, and Human Resource Director Matt Keyes discussed the challenge at the May 6 meeting of the school board. The administrators said they hope to open a dialogue to discuss the issue in coming months.
Just three years ago, the starting wage for a teacher in the San Juan School District was the third-highest among the 41 districts in the state. Now, as many districts in the state have instituted significant pay increases, the San Juan wage has fallen to the 19th-highest.
While local starting salaries have certainly not fallen, the drop in ranking is triggered by the increase in wages paid by other districts.
Nielson said that the drop is causing problems in the effort to attract and retain teachers.
“This places San Juan School District at a significant disadvantage when trying to recruit and retain quality educators,” said Nielson
He added the district is seeing a decrease in the quality of the applicant pool in both teacher and administrator positions.
In fact, Nielson said throughout the district, the schools have received only one application from a licensed Language Arts teacher in the past four years.
The primary factor driving these issues is compensation and how it compares to other school districts, according to the superintendent.
Nielson said the secondary factors that potential teachers consider when weighing job options may include this is a great place to live, it is beautiful, they can live life at a slower pace, have a lower cost of living, enjoy high quality health care, and work in modern schools and facilities.
Nielson said, “While we hit secondary factors hard while recruiting, when the compensation is so low, you lose the fish off your hook right there.”
It is not only in starting wages that the district is falling behind other districts in Utah.
The negotiated Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), an annual figure negotiated with the teachers, has been outpaced by other districts.
Nielson said that only once in the past ten years has the San Juan School District COLA been above the state average.
When you adjust salaries for days, less the amount of premiums that San Juan School District employees pay, the district is 40 among the 41 districts in the state.
Nielson summarized that to be relatively competitive in the teacher market, he feels the district needs to remain in the top ten of the 41 districts.
Business Administrator Kyle Hosler outlined possible solutions to the budgeting challenge, including rethinking the use of Impact Aid from the federal government, more aggressive negotiations, property tax adjustments, increasing the period of time between capital projects, or using the district bonding capacity.
Hosler added that the district is looking “into any and all possible solutions for the future.”
At the board meeting, the district recognized the 16 teachers in the district who earned the “highly effective teachers” award, which includes a $4,600 bonus.
Teachers of grades 4 through 12 in core areas are eligible for the award if at least 70 percent of the students have growth in test scores.