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How little Florida pays its teachers

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By BILL MAXWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 17, 2002


If we measure teacher salaries against comparable positions in other fields, we learn that teachers will never get rich by plying their trade. Some states pay teachers relatively well, while others that pay poorly have trouble recruiting and retaining teachers, according to the American Federation of Teachers' most recent state-by-state teacher salary survey released Tuesday.

Beginning teacher salaries are up in reaction to the nationwide teacher shortage, but pay increases for experienced teachers have stagnated, thus aggravating most efforts to retain veteran teachers.

"The good news is that better starting salaries will attract more people to the teaching profession, but the bad news is that increases for experienced teachers are inadequate to keep them in the classroom," AFT president Sandra Feldman said. "We need to retain quality teachers so that students and rookie teachers have the opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals."

The AFT survey found that for the 2000-2001 school year, the average beginning teacher salary was $28,986, up 4.4 percent from 1999-2000. The average teacher salary was $43,250, up 3.4 percent from the previous year -- among the smallest increases in 40 years. Teachers had an average 15.8 years of experience.

For new teachers, the $28,986 average beginning salary fell far below starting salary offers in other fields for recent college graduates. Accounting graduates, for example, were offered an average $37,143; sales/marketing, $40,033; math/statistics, $49,548; computer science, $49,749; and engineering, $50,033.

The $43,250 average teacher salary lagged behind the average wages of other white-collar jobs. Mid-level accountants, for instance, earned an average $52,664, computer system analysts, $71,155; engineers, $74,920; and attorneys, $82,712.

The report also shows the following for 2000-2001:

States with the highest average salary: Connecticut had the highest average salary at $53,507. The other top five states were California, at $52,480; New Jersey, at $51,955; New York, at $51,020; and Michigan, at $50,515. California teacher salaries spiked 10.1 percent, improving its rank from seventh to second. California's increase reflects state efforts to reduce class size and hire more teachers.

States with the lowest average salary: South Dakota had the lowest average salary at $30,265. The other states at the bottom of the list were Montana, at $33,249; Oklahoma, at $32,545; Mississippi, at $31,954; and North Dakota, at $30,891. Oklahoma raised its rank from 50th to 48th by providing the largest increase of any state -- 10.2 percent. Oklahoma's increase reflects an effort to make its wages more competitive with those of surrounding states.

States with the highest average beginning salary: Alaska had the highest beginning salary at $36,293. The other top five states were California, at $33,121; New York, $32,772; Delaware, $32,281; and Connecticut, $32,203.

States with the lowest average beginning salary: North Dakota had the lowest beginning salary at $20,675. The other states at the bottom of the list were Idaho, $23,386; Mississippi, $23,292; South Dakota, $22,457; and Montana, $21,728.

Other highlights of the report:

Salaries in 2000-2001 for other education personnel varied widely. Superintendents earned an average of $118,496; high school principals, $83,367; central office secretaries, $29,514; school building secretaries, $23,630; instructional aides, $10.41/hour; cafeteria workers, $9.41/hour; and bus drivers, $13.13/hour.

"The difficult challenges of teaching our children, preparing and serving hundreds of meals a day, and safely driving children to and from school are performed by underpaid, undervalued public servants who deserve much better," Feldman said.

Among the nation's 100 largest cities, the average daily pay for substitute teachers was $101.64. Long Beach, Calif., paid the highest daily rate of $146.16, while Montgomery, Ala., paid the lowest daily rate of $50.

Teacher health insurance cost is rising. Nearly 7 percent of teachers' compensation goes to pay for their share of health insurance costs. "We're very concerned that escalating health insurance costs slash into already inadequate wages," Feldman said.

Floridians should know that their state ranked 29th in average teacher salary during 2000-01. We had 133,545 teachers, with an average salary of $38,230. During 1999-2000 and 2000-01, average beginning salaries for teachers with a bachelor's degree was $25,132 and $25,786 respectively, placing Florida 37th among the states. We rank below the likes of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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