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Utah has high 'new teacher turnover' but salaries aren't below some surrounding states, audit claims

Posted at 4:04 PM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 18:13:16-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative audit published late Tuesday finds Utah has some of the lowest teacher turnover rates, except when it comes to new teachers.

"While overall teacher turnover is low in Utah, teacher turnover in the first five years is generally high. The average teacher turnover for the first five years of the 2016 cohort is 42 percent. This is higher than national averages which range between 17 and 46 percent. Non-professionally licensed teachers have higher turnover rates than those with a professional license," said the audit released by the Office of Legislative Auditor General.

Teacher shortages are more local and occur more frequently in rural parts of the state, the audit also said. And beyond salaries, teachers are experiencing a lot of burnout.

"Teachers cited large class sizes and heavy workloads as leading concerns. Teachers are also concerned with low salaries. We found that the Legislature and districts continue to prioritize funding for teacher salaries, making Utah’s starting salaries for teachers competitive with national averages," the audit said.

But the audit found that overall, Utah teachers are dedicated to their jobs.

"Despite the concerns they reported, teachers are generally satisfied in their jobs. We asked teachers to rate their satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most satisfied. A '4' was the most common response (41%), followed by '3' (26%), and then '5' (25%). These results present an interesting dichotomy: Teachers feel overworked but are generally satisfied with their jobs," the audit said. "One possible explanation for this may be due to only surveying teachers who are still in the field. Our concern, however, is that as stress levels and workload continue to increase, the calculus of the decision to continue teaching may shift, and Utah may risk losing teachers who had previously liked their jobs."

But the audit said that while teachers often complain about low salaries, their wages are more than some surrounding states like Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona, and in line with salary averages nationwide for educators.

"More analysis on teacher wages may be warranted to better support teacher concerns regarding wages, stress, workload, and administrative support," the audit said.

In a response to the audit, the Utah State Board of Education said it supported efforts to retain teachers. The Utah School Superintendents Association asked to be a part of future discussions about retention.

"Our members schools have been working hard to retain our new teachers and they can provide input on what is working and what can be replicated," USSA President Ben Dalton wrote to lawmakers.

Read the audit here: