The career ladder plan: another look


Rep. John Rusche

House Minority Leader John Rusche doesn’t think there’s any chance the Legislature will raise starting teacher pay to $40,000.

Part of that is rooted in animosity. After the bitter debate over Propositions 1, 2 and 3, said Rusche, some legislators believe Idaho teachers are “in it for the money.”

There is more to the equation, as Rusche said in an Idaho Education News interview earlier this week. In many rural communities, teaching jobs are seen as relatively high-paying jobs, said Rusche, D-Lewiston. And that’s under the current salary structure, which includes a $31,000 starting salary.

To put Rusche’s remark into context, here are some numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In March 2012, Idaho’s average weekly wage was $692, translating to $35,984 a year. But in 23 of the state’s 44 counties, the average weekly wage was below $597 — or $31,044 a year. In other words, even a starting teacher salary is at or above the average weekly wage in more than half of the state’s counties.

Members of Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force make several arguments for their six-year, $253 million career ladder proposal, which also would raise salaries for veteran teachers to $50,000 to $60,000. They believe it would give Idaho college students an incentive to go into teaching, allow Idaho to keep good teachers from fleeing for higher-paying jobs elsewhere, and tie teacher pay to job performance. Otter has endorsed the task force’s 21 recommendations — although he has hinted that the first priority is restoring $82.5 million in school budget cuts dating back to the recession.

But as Rusche indicates, the fate of the salary ladder may come down to how legislators feel about teachers, and current teacher pay.

More reading: Statehouse reactions to the task force recommendations.


  • Kevin S. Wilson

    “A starting teacher salary is at or above the average weekly wage in more than half of the state’s counties.”

    I would expect nothing else when one compares the starting salary of a professional holding a 4-year degree to the average wage earned by workers in largely rural counties. If anything, the difference between that starting salary and the average wage should be even greater and more pronounced, given that the average wage no doubt includes many unskilled workers and manual laborers. That average wage is useful in a discussion about the lack of highly paid jobs in Idaho, particularly in rural communities. It is barely relevant to a discussion about what teachers are worth, or what to pay highly skilled, educated, experienced professionals.

    That said, I am unsurprised to detect the undertone of bitter acrimony in remarks from those Idaho legislators who believe that teachers are only “in it for the money,” as paraphrased by Rep. Rusche. These are the same people who speak with unvarnished contempt and abject disdain for teachers, calling them “union thugs,” “glorified babysitters,” and worse. Listen closely and you will also hear, echoing in that undertone, distrust of education and of the educated, along with what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “a peasant’s seething resentment.”

  • http://TheEdge Barbara Sorensen

    Excellent synopsis Kevin Wilson. Why don’t we compare teachers’ salaries with other professionals having similar educations and credentials? We never bemoan the pay engineers, lawyers, accountants, software designers, business managers, (etc., etc.) earn during their careers. Many teachers end up with self-paid advanced degrees too. When many jobs ( truck driving, construction, factory work) pay more without educational requirements, criticizing teachers for wanting a living wage sounds miserly and hypocritical. Teachers have quietly been addressing all of this by leaving their districts for other states or leaving the profession entirely for the past couple of years. Don’t believe it? Try talking to the numerous administrators that have been scraping the barrel trying to fill positions this year.

  • John Smith

    Agreed, compare apples and apples. I know of custodians who make more than starting teachers and they have better benefits.

  • Laurie Kiester

    Let’s talk about the “salary ladder” that the task force is proposing. The number one issue isn’t the 40k; it’s the 60k and here’s why. This ladder is based on being an average (40k), above average (50k), and “distinguished” (60k) teacher. How will this be funded to district? Do they predetermine how many of each rung on the ladder they will have? Do they guesstimate that they will have 33% of each? Is this fair? Will some districts direct their principals to only mark a certain percentage as “distinguished” as a result? Do some districts already discourage having too many good marks on an evaluation (even if there ARE) a lot of teachers doing an excellent job? Yes! So how will this be fair? How will it be funded? Will the state give everyone enough to pay 100% distinguished and ask them to give back the difference if not everyone is distinguished? Furthermore, what will this do to the relationships between principals and their staff? If they know they can only have so many “distinguished” teachers for evaluations, the principals are essentially determining their salary. Here’s another scenario: a teacher is evaluated as “distinguished” but ticks the principal off. The principal marks her as average the next year. That’s a $20,000 difference in her budget! Granted, that’s life, but is this the best system?