San Diego

California teachers, despite being highest paid in nation, struggle to make ends meet

Swift inflation and slow-to-win raises are keeping California's educators struggling outside their classrooms

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Lucy Ugarte taught middle school for 27 years before becoming the president of the Sweetwater Education Association. For the first eight years on the job she worked security jobs on nights and weekends.

"Sometimes it took away from my family, but sometimes they came with me. You know, one job should be enough," said Ugarte. “I don't feel like I was able to make ends meet until probably 10 years ago. And that's 17 years into the profession."

That experience motivated her as she moved out of the classroom and into her office at the teacher's union.

"I don't want teachers to experience the things that I did in my early years," said Ugarte.

On paper, it looks like they may not have to. Data from the National Education Association shows California teachers have the highest average pay in the nation. However, teachers said it is still a struggle to keep up with San Diego's high cost of living, especially for teachers who are just starting out.

The starting salary for a Sweetwater Union High School District teacher is about $53,000 per year. That includes a recently negotiated 9% raise.

“We have really amazing staff here and teachers within the district and so we want to keep these key folks in our district," said district communications director Nadège Johnson.

When adjusted for inflation, the NEA data finds that on average, salaries are 5% lower than they were 10 years ago.

"I've heard of teachers who are asking on the weekends where they can find a food bank. And that to me, breaks my heart. That shouldn't be happening,” said Ugarte.

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