Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Bingham High School teacher Vince Merrell holds his daughter, Brooke, along with wife Meagan at their home.

School teachers face a tough choice in these lean budget times: stay and suffer financially, or leave the job they love.

Vince Merrell, a third-year business teacher at Bingham High School, followed family tradition and several mentors when he chose education as a profession.

Merrell, 28, of West Jordan, earned his bachelor's degree in marketing education from Utah State University. The young teacher made $35,558 for the 2008-09 school year. There is no increase in sight. Jordan School District has frozen teacher salaries for the upcoming year.

Many seasoned teachers or administrators have topped out on the pay schedule. It's the new teachers who are now bearing the brunt of stagnating salaries.

"This really does place the burden on younger teachers," Merrell said.

He and his wife, Meagan, 25, have a 2-month-old baby. Meagan Merrell works part time in a dental office. They rent a house in West Jordan for about $900 a month.

"I need to look at financial opportunities for my family," he said.

Merrell will have completed an MBA through University of Phoenix this fall. He saved first and paid tuition up front to get a better deal.

According to Jordan District's teacher salary schedule, a third-year teacher with an MBA should be earning $40,286, including professional development days. Those are paid time when students aren't in school and teachers can attend workshops, collaborate on lessons or grade class work.

Last year Jordan District teachers had 10 professional development days. This year Jordan School Board voted to have only three, six-hour days, an approach that amounts to a salary decrease.

The board also voted to not fund educator "steps" and "lanes" for 2009-10.

A lane increase is a salary adjustment for those who have earned extra academic degrees. Step increases are given routinely for years of experience.

With all the cuts, Merrell will earn $34,274 during the 2009-10 school year. That is $1,284 less than he made in 2008-09 and $6,012 less than he should have made starting this fall, according to last year's salary schedule.

"It's pretty drastic for me," he said.

The salary changes are a difficult pill to swallow for Merrell and other teachers.

Davis School District cut its teachers' steps but left lanes intact.

"A very poor decision that pits teacher against teacher," said Mike Barton, a history teacher at Kaysville Junior High School.

Barton also points to the inequality of administrators who have topped out on the salary scale and are unaffected by frozen steps and lanes.

"The superintendent, and down, should have taken a percentage cut, and we would match it equally," he said. "But instead, the teachers sacrifice."

Wendy Brown, a counselor at Copper Hills High School, agreed, saying district administrators should take a cut.

"Everyone should be sacrificing," she said.

Ironically, if Merrell quit his job and was rehired next year in Jordan District, he would get his salary increase, because he would be hired as a third-year teacher with an MBA.

Merrell said going to a different district that pays a higher salary and hasn't frozen steps and lanes is an option.

"I really enjoy the students," he said. "I want to continue teaching."

Or, if Merrell stays in Jordan District, he may have to get an additional part-time job, he said.

The past school year, Merrell worked about 100 hours for about $2,000 serving as Bingham High's adviser to DECA, an association for marketing students. In addition, for the upcoming school year, Merrell plans to work as an assistant state adviser for Utah's DECA. He predicts it will require about 200 hours of his time, and he will earn $4,000.

"I'm thinking of starting a lawn-mowing business," he said, though he thinks working too many other hours could detract from his teaching duties.