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Sunday, Jan 13 2013 10:00 PM

Kern teacher pay up, but below state average

BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Kern County teachers earned less than the average salary for their profession statewide last year, but average pay here rose even as statewide teacher salaries fell slightly, according to new data from the California Department of Education.

Kern County teachers earned an average of $63,517 a year during the 2011-12 school year, up less than 1 percent from the 2010-11 school year.

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Top 10 in Kern County (2011-12)

Taft Union High: $79,713

Kern County Office of Education: $77,157

McKittrick Elementary: $77,157

Arvin Union Elementary: $69,681

Midway Elementary: $69,681

Kern Union High: $67,287

Fruitvale Elementary: $67,214

Southern Kern Unified: $66,164

Panama-Buena Vista Union: $65,993

Wasco Union High: $65,534

Bottom 10 in Kern County (2011-12)

Kernville Union Elementary: $58,370

Fairfax Elementary: $57,542

General Shafter Elementary: $56,045

Edison Elementary: $56,027

Buttonwillow Union Elementary: $55,448

Beardsley Elementary: $55,251

South Fork Union Elementary: $54,091

Los Hills Union Elementary: $50,900

Elk Hills Elementary: $46,405

Blake Elementary: $41,890

Note: Eight school districts did not report data to the state: Belridge Elementary, Linns Valley-Poso Flat Union, Maple Elementary, Maricopa Unified, Norris Elementary, Pond Union Elementary, Semitropic Elementary, Taft City Elementary.

Source: California Department of Education

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Despite the modest increase, teacher salaries in Kern remained well below the statewide average pay of $68,531 last year, even after a slight drop in the state average from the previous year.

The California Teachers Association said the teacher pay data is misleading.

Salary schedules are determined by a formula that takes into account how many years of teaching experience an employee has, as well as the employee's education level beyond a bachelor's degree.

Because so many young and early-career teachers have been laid off in the economic downturn, the only teachers left, for the most part, are mid-career and veteran teachers who earn more, said CTA staff member Mitch Olson.

"Looking purely at average salary is overly simplistic," he said.

How much teachers earned also depended on what grade they taught.

Kern County's high school district teachers earned an average annual salary of $66,857, compared with $62,715 for elementary school district teachers and $62,092 for teachers in unified school districts.

Eight Kern County districts didn't report numbers to the state, so their information is not factored into the overall local trends shown. And many other districts in the state didn't report, either, likely skewing the statewide numbers.

A few local individual districts compensated their teachers very well last year.

Taft Union High School District teachers earned $79,713 a year, on average -- the highest average in the county.

The district recently named William "Bill" McDermott interim superintendent while it looks for a permanent successor to Mark Richardson, who left to become superintendent of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.

McDermott said Taft, which has about 1,000 students, has made a conscious choice to offer high salaries in order to woo teachers.

"If we don't pay well, teachers don't want to come out to our community," he said. "But we're not going to be able to do it much longer."

Property taxes from area oilfields have helped the district afford high teacher salaries, but cuts in state funding have overshadowed even that revenue and the district is now looking at budget cuts, McDermott said.

"We're feeling the effects like everybody else," he said. "We've cut back on supplies and travel and all sorts of other things, but it's not enough. When you're getting paid 80 cents for every dollar the state owes you, plus cost-of-living increases, it's hard to do business."

The highest salary offered in Kern, $96,200, was in the McKittrick Elementary School District, a K-8 district with 72 students west of Bakersfield.

The property tax revenue generated by oil industry operations in the area accounts for most of that, said Superintendent and Principal Barry Koerner, but there also has been a concerted effort to reverse previous pay trends.

"It had been systematically and historically low," Koerner said. "We had set a goal to get that up in order to remain competitive."

The lowest pay was $41,890 in the Blake Elementary School District, a K-8 district northeast of Bakersfield in Woody with only about a half dozen students and one teacher.

The low salary in Blake "doesn't surprise me one bit," said Superintendent of Record Gary Bray.

The district doesn't even have enough money to pay a superintendent. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office provides the services of Bray, a management analyst for KCSOS.

The upside of being so tiny is that students get a ton of individual attention, Bray said.

"The teacher is the wife of a rancher over there, and it's not uncommon for her to get two years of progress out of a single school year," Bray said.

Elk Hills Elementary School, a K-8 district with about 200 students, also was near the bottom of the county in teacher pay with an average annual salary of $46,405.

Superintendent Jeff Tensley said Elk Hills teachers got a 5 percent increase last year and a 3 percent increase this year after the district conducted a compensation study to see where it stood compared to other districts in the state.

"We're going to be doing small increments instead of doing one big chunk, not knowing what our funding is going to be from the state of California," he said. "But I think if you looked at how many districts in the county were giving raises over the last couple of years, you wouldn't find too many."

Tensley added that there are other perks to working in Elk Hills, including generous benefits, small class sizes, newly renovated classrooms and cutting edge educational technology.

"It's a good place to work," Tensley said.

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