Hesperia Unified School District teachers are among the best paid in the Victor Valley, and are the tops among teachers with only a bachelor's degree.

Exact salary comparisons between school districts are difficult, as each uses a different compensation structure, with raises spread out over differing numbers of steps and with pay categories based on differing qualifications, to say nothing of the variation in benefits packages.

In the HUSD, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and teaching certification starts at $43,498. After 12 years of annual pay increases, the top salary for a teacher with no additional education is $69,159, the most of any teacher with a comparable education in the Victor Valley.

In Hesperia, there are additional tiers for teachers who have pursued more post-graduate education.

For HUSD teachers with a master's degree, their salary starts at $44,595. After 18 years of pay increases, they end up with a salary of $79,349.

For HUSD teachers with a PhD, salaries start at $45,478. After 20 years, that salary will grow to $84,610.

(According to the 2000 census, the median household income in Hesperia is $41,423, although only a little more than 8 percent of residents have a bachelor's degree or better.)

"One of the things our teachers were concerned about is that we're low on the starting salary and low on the top, but we're high in the middle," said HUSD Superintendent Mark McKinney.

HUSD teachers traditionally also get the cost of living adjustment monies given to districts by the state, something not all school districts do.

"Our practice has been pass it through, minus statutory costs," McKinney said.

"When you look at our top salary, you also have to take in consideration that, next year, we'll pay about $200 a month out of pocket for benefits," said Hesperia Teachers Association President Jim Pace.

There are higher salaries out there. Victor Elementary School District teachers with a master's degree start at $46,425 and max out at $83,842 after 20 years.

Victor Elementary teachers with a PhD do even better, starting at $47,892 and ending, after 25 years, at $87,491. Snowline Joint Unified School District teachers with a PhD do even better, starting at $47,761 and after 22 years, ending with $88,313.

"Snowline, their salaries are high, but their benefits aren't that good. There's kind of a double-edged sword with them," Pace said.

Snowline is also the only school district in the Victor Valley without a teachers union negotiating for them.

"I think they play good cop, bad cop. 'If you don't give us what we want, we'll unionize,'" Pace said. "I think they do pretty well, but their benefits are pretty much inferior to everyone around here."

So are Hesperia teachers paid well, in the mind of their union president?

"I think it's yes and no," Pace said. "Five and six years ago, when houses were going for a hundred and a half out here, a beginning teacher could do pretty well, and you could make it on a single income. Now, they're hurting, like everyone. Gasoline, food, even the basic staples have gone up. I don't think anyone is feeling rich right now. We're all kind of strapped."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.