FARGO — The notion that teachers are paid too little is not new.

Three out of four Americans believe teachers don’t make enough money, according to polls from The New York Times, The Associated Press and NPR. Only 45% of public school teachers said they are satisfied with their salary, according to the 2015-16 National Teacher and Principal Survey.

Several indicators — such as retention and numbers of teachers with second jobs — also point to low pay. Teachers tend to pay more for out-of-pocket work expenses and work more hours outside the typical workday.

The Fargo Education Association, the teacher union for the Fargo School District, is calling for a 2.5% raise in 2019-2020 and a 2% raise in 2020-2021.

Teachers haven't had any reasonable pay increase in several years, FEA President David Marquardt told The Forum. Increased cost of living and higher health insurance rates in the district have also been factors.

Twenty-two governors have called for increases in teacher pay, including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. North Dakota approved a 2% increase in per-pupil spending, and Burgum, a Republican, publicly called for the money to be used to boost teacher pay. However, districts decide how to spend the money.

Several other districts in North Dakota have used some of the increased spending on higher teacher salaries, according to Nick Archuleta, president of the state's teacher union, North Dakota United.

What do teachers make?

Unlike most professions, individual public school teachers can't negotiate salaries or ask for raises. Salaries depend on a pay scale that factors in years of experience and education. A teacher earns more after each year on the job and after additional education.

In Fargo, the starting salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree is $41,532. But if a first-year teacher has a master’s degree, the starting salary is $42,736. The maximum salary a Fargo teacher can earn is $82,934.

Teachers in Fargo public schools are paid according to a salary schedule that offers raises for each year of teaching and additional education. Source: Fargo School Board
Teachers in Fargo public schools are paid according to a salary schedule that offers raises for each year of teaching and additional education. Source: Fargo School Board

New Fargo teachers make more than those in Moorhead ($39,453), but salaries fall below Bismarck ($45,900) and Dickinson ($45,549). New West Fargo teachers started at $37,109 last school year but, because the district pays for teachers' retirement funds unlike Fargo, new teachers there actually earn $42,050.

Fargo has the 25th highest starting teacher salary in North Dakota, according to information from North Dakota United. Fargo has fallen from 19th place in 2017-2018.

The average starting teacher salary in North Dakota is $38,611, which is higher than Minnesota ($38,529), South Dakota ($38,098) and Montana ($31,418) but doesn't top Wyoming ($45,241), according to the National Education Association.

An investigation by USA Today used housing to analyze whether teachers made a livable wage. If a teacher paid more than 30% of their salary in rent, the area was deemed unaffordable.

New Fargo teachers spend 40-60% of their income on housing, according to the investigation. Mid-level teachers in Fargo paid almost 35% of their income for housing.

Third-grade teacher Maria Lunak shows her students how to write cursive this past school year at Century Elementary in Grand Forks. Forum News Service file photo
Third-grade teacher Maria Lunak shows her students how to write cursive this past school year at Century Elementary in Grand Forks. Forum News Service file photo

North Dakota is in critical need of science, technology, and computer science teachers, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. There are also shortages of elementary, special education, social studies, math and English learner teachers, among others.

The Fargo Education Association says a pay increase will help recruit and retain teachers in North Dakota and attract teachers to the district. Contract negotiations between the teacher union and school board are set to resume in August.

Falling wages

Despite wage increases, teacher salaries nationally have actually declined 4% since 2009, when adjusted for inflation and increased living costs. And in every state, teachers make less than private-sector employees with similar education levels, according to a study from the Economic Policy Institute.

This means teachers earn almost 19% less than private-sector workers. That’s $582 less per week on average.

In North Dakota, teachers make 8.7% less than others with similar education levels. In Minnesota, teachers make 21.6% less, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The gap between private employees and teachers has grown since the 1970s.

Added expenses

Teachers also tend to spend more than other employees on work-related expenses.

Across North Dakota, 90.7% of teachers said they spend their own money on classroom supplies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. On average, North Dakota teachers spend $285 a year on supplies.

Some argue that teacher benefits, such as health insurance and retirement benefits, compensate for lower pay. Benefits make up 27% of teacher compensation — compared to 22% for other professionals, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

However, an investigation by Vox found that nationally teachers are paying almost $1,500 more per year on insurance premiums adjusted for inflation than they did 10 years ago, more than state and local government employees pay.

Teachers, too, are more likely to work a second job. During the 2015-2016 school year, 59% of teachers worked an additional job, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

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