Teachers in Stanislaus County earn a wide range of pay, with $23,650 separating the highest and lowest average salaries in Stanislaus County.
Modesto City Schools ranks highest with an average annual salary of $80,686, with Shiloh School District in a rural, eastern chunk of the county averaging $57,036 a year, according to Education Department data from the 2008-09 school year, the most recent figures available.
The state average hovers in the high $60,000s.
Salary and benefits are negotiated by each district in California and vary widely across the state. Workdays also vary by district, from 181 to 185 in Stanislaus County during the 2008-09 school year.
Officials and teachers said the salaries likely will look slimmer next year as school districts shore up their budget deficits by reducing pay and imposing furlough days.
In Stanislaus County, entry level teachers earned as little as $35,283 at Denair Unified with veteran teachers taking home as much as $97,988 at Modesto City Schools.
Another difference is how much districts contribute to employees' medical, dental and vision insurance annually. Those benefits range from a low of $1,800 at Modesto City Schools to $18,178 at the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Both agencies are in the county's top three paying districts, according to average teacher pay and the combination of average pay and benefits.
The county Office of Education employs fewer teachers and offers specialized programs in special education and alternative education. Special ed teachers are usually in short supply and sometimes work longer days. That's why they get more pay, said Don Gatti, county assistant superintendent of business services.
His agency's generous benefit contributions follow a system set up decades ago, when officials agreed to pay all increases in health insurance premiums.
Today, that is no easy feat, Gatti said. A few years ago, officials negotiated part of that deal away, saying that new hires have to pay half the increase in premiums each year.
The larger the district, the higher teacher pay tends to be. But size isn't necessarily a deciding factor. Patterson Unified, the county's fifth-largest district, ranked 18th in average teacher pay ($58,604) and total compensation ($66,608).
In a recession, pay won't necessarily be a primary draw for educators looking to keep working despite staffing cutbacks, one administrator said.
"Most people at a school are just trying to get jobs. The last two years, teachers are looking for whatever they can get," said Seth Ehrler, Shiloh superintendent, principal and algebra teacher. "Some teachers prefer a smaller school district, while others prefer larger-paying schools."
Shiloh employs six teachers — half are veteran and half are within their first five years teaching — for 129 students in grades kindergarten through eight.
Other highlights from the state data:
Seven of the 20 county districts that provided salary data rank above the state average teacher pay, and 13 fall below that mark.
Average teacher pay skews higher if the district has a large number of longtime teachers, just as it tilts lower if it has a large number of new teachers. Only four county districts record an average teaching experience of 10 or fewer years — Hart-Ransom, Paradise, Patterson Unified and Valley Home.
Modesto City Schools' teachers notched an average of 15 years of experience, which places them in the county's top five in terms of years teaching. Having a larger chunk of veteran teachers explains Modesto's higher average salary of $80,686, said Barney Hale, executive director of the Modesto Teachers Association.
"That drives up the average, the age of your teachers, and we're a particularly veteran district," he said.
And sometimes, Hale added, teachers start at smaller districts then work their way up to larger agencies.
When analyzing employee pay, districts compare themselves against others in the state with similar employee and student demographics. Ceres school officials want to be somewhere in the middle, said Denise Wickham, assistant superintendent of personnel.
"Our teaching staff is relatively young, so even with newer staff, we offer really good compensation," she said, noting that Ceres ranks toward the top of the middle when compared to county districts.