The student-teacher ratio in Utah is more than the national average, but Utah is at the bottom when it comes to funding education.
"Statistically, we do have fewer taxpayers per student because of the high number of students we have," said Mike Kelly, director of communication for the Utah Education Association.
Such pressure to educate large numbers of students with fewer teachers than in other states always puts a spotlight on compensation rates for Utah teachers, principals and superintendents. A Standard-Examiner review of salary data of administrators and teachers in the Ogden, Weber, Davis and Box Elder school districts shows the four districts more or less are in the same boat with base pay rates.
Local teachers' pay is far below the national average.
Such relative hardship is not a top concern for taxpayer advocates.
Royce Van Tassell, with the Utah Taxpayers Association, said Utah will always have more children per household than any other state.
He does not advocate putting more money into the education system, but instead advocates using better tools to get better student outcomes.
"Real student achievement comes through school grading," Van Tassell said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average salary for full-time public school teachers in 2010-11, the last year available, was $56,069.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the student-teacher ratio nationally is 19 students per teacher. In Utah, the ratio is 22 students per teacher. The actual number of students in each class depends on the school, the grade level and the subject.
Utah ranked last or at No. 51 in spending per student, but it ranked No. 6 in the nation for percentage of education budget spent on teachers' salaries, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Patty Murphy, research consultant with the state Office of Education, said the national center lumped all instruction salaries -- teachers and paraprofessionals -- into one category.
According to the Office of Education, 84 percent of the $5,803 spent on each student goes toward instructional salaries, which includes teachers and paraprofessionals.
Also, 1 percent, or $72 per student, goes toward the salaries of superintendents and school board members.
The Standard-Examiner sent public-records requests in July to Ogden, Weber, Box Elder and Davis school districts seeking the average base pay of superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals and teachers.
The average base salary for teachers in those four districts ranges from $45,293 for Box Elder, which has 513 teaching positions, to $47,838 for Weber, which has 1,540 teaching positions.
Davis School District, which has 3,414 teaching positions, pays an average base salary of $47,621, while Ogden, which has 703 teaching positions, pays an average base salary of $46,584.
Superintendents' average base salary has more of a variation:
* Ogden Superintendent Brad Smith's base salary is $120,400.
* Box Elder Superintendent Ron Wolff's base salary is $121,000.
* Weber Superintendent Jeff Stephens' base salary is $156,133.
* Davis Superintendent Bryan Bowles' base salary is $180,250.
The Utah Transparency website, run by the state Division of Finance, reports that, for the 2012-13 school year, Bowles' total compensation was $281,430. That number, according to the website, includes benefits, such as health insurance, personal time and retirement.
When asked about the number, Bowles said, "That is a bunch of baloney. I don't get that much."
The site also reports higher total compensation for the other three superintendents.
Bowles said his entire package includes the same benefits as other district employees and it does not equal $281,430.
The state receives the numbers from the school districts, but not all the data it has received is summarized correctly, said Ryan Roberts, local government supervisor with the Office of the State Auditor.
Currently, there is no statewide uniformity on how school districts report expenditures, which include salaries and benefits, Roberts said.
The transparency website does provide a public service, but "it does have its fallacies, unfortunately," Roberts said.
Davis School Board President Tamara Lowe said Davis district is the second-largest in the state, with more than 70,000 students.
The Davis board does not compare Bowles' salary with those of Ogden, Box Elder or Weber superintendents because those districts have significantly smaller student populations, Lowe said.
They do look at the base pay of superintendents at larger districts, such as Granite, when they are working on Bowles' salary, Lowe said.
Bowles and Wolff both said they do not receive any type of performance pay or bonuses.
Ogden's Smith said, as part of his contract, he can receive up to $30,000 in performance pay in addition to his base salary.
Smith received $25,000 in performance pay his first full year as superintendent and $28,000 the second year.
"To my knowledge, I'm the only superintendent in the state that receives performance pay," Smith said.
He said he does receive health insurance and retirement benefits, but does not receive any vacation or sick leave.
Smith said his district spent the past two years studying how to design a "fair and respectful" performance pay program for teachers. The district plans to continue to study the issue for another two years.
"It's very easy to say we should do it, but very difficult to quantify how to do it," he said.
Smith said Denver adopted a merit pay system for its educators to reward "highly effective teaching practices."
Wolff said the average base salary of a teacher can be different from one district to another due to how old the employees are.
If a district has had the same teachers for a number of years, the average salary will be a bit higher than in another district, which has newer teachers.
Also, after a teacher has been with a district for six or seven years, the pay increases are not as much as in the beginning, he said.
The starting base salary for teachers in the four districts are also pretty close, ranging from $32,020 in Box Elder to $34,000 in Weber, Wolff said.
Districts try to keep the pay of teachers about the same, Lowe said, adding, "We have to compete."
The base pay for any educator does not cover insurance, retirement, vacation, sick time or prep days, Lowe said.
Benefits differ among districts. Teachers pay more for insurance in some districts, while other districts pick up more of the costs.
Don Paver, Davis Education Association president, said Salt Lake school districts do pay teachers more, but the teachers end up paying more for health insurance. Davis School District picks up more of the employees' health insurance premiums, he said.
Also, teachers in many districts, including Davis, are being asked to do more with less because of budget cuts. Davis School District took a preparation day away from teachers, so teachers are making $100 less this year than in the last school year.
Paver teaches fifth grade at Columbia Elementary School in Kaysville. This year, he has 35 students in his class -- and he said he expects even more next year.
Contact reporter Loretta Park at 801-625-4252 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LorettaParkSE.
DISTRICTS' BASE SALARIES
BOX ELDER SCHOOL DISTRICT
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT: $88,057
Full-time equivalent positions: 513
OGDEN SCHOOL DISTRICT
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT: $119,188
Full-time equivalent positions: 703
WEBER SCHOOL DISTRICT
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT: $123,674
Full-time equivalent positions: 1,540
DAVIS SCHOOL DISTRICT
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT: $140,595
Full-time equivalent positions: 3,414