East Idaho leaders outline priorities for legislative session

POCATELLO — East Idaho superintendents and other school leaders want more funding for attracting and retaining new teachers in rural areas, better compensation for experienced teachers and fewer restrictions for becoming a teacher in Idaho.

It’s a refrain reflective of feedback gleaned from school leaders in other parts of the state, said Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.

“That’s largely what we’ve heard so far,” Ybarra told Idaho Education News on Thursday.

Nearly a dozen local school leaders met with Ybarra and members of her staff in Pocatello Thursday morning to discuss a range of education issues ahead of the 2019 legislative session.

State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra meats with area school leaders in Pocatello.

Most of the hour-long meeting revolved around challenges facing East Idaho schools.

Bear Lake Superintendent Gary Brogan said it’s hard finding teachers to work in his rural district near the Idaho-Utah border.

“I’m sure you’re hearing it a lot,” Brogan said, before asking Ybarra to lobby the 2019 Legislature for more money to help solve the problem.

Ybarra acknowledged her awareness of staffing issues in some districts and encouraged those present to help bring the issue to lawmakers.

“It’s more powerful when we take our message to the Legislature together,” she said.

Joel Weaver, director of Fort Hall-based Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy, said the state should remove some barriers for talented educators who might not meet all of Idaho’s teaching requirements.

“Why are we requiring a bachelor’s degree when we used to have teacher colleges?” Weaver said. “How can we access the talent pool we already have that’s sitting here latent?”

Idaho teacher salaries increased by an average of 3.6 percent in 2017-18, the third year of the state’s five-year, $250 million “career ladder” salary law aimed at attracting and retaining more teachers through boosted pay.

Ybarra probed local leaders on how the law has played out in their individual districts. Some said it has helped them hire new teachers, but neglects an emphasis on retaining experienced ones.

“I support the career ladder,” said Snake River School District Superintendent David Kerns, “but I’m still concerned about doing something for teachers on the upper end.”

In addition to the career ladder, the Idaho Legislature created the master educator premiums as a way to reward experienced teachers who perform at the highest levels and demonstrate mastery of their teaching technique. The premiums total $4,000 per year, per recipient.

Some leaders say it’s not enough. Kerns and Snake River Federal Programs director and elementary school principal David Dougal echoed that refrain Thursday.

“Experienced (teachers) aren’t really interested in it,” Dougal told Ybarra.

Pocatello-Chubbuck School District Superintendent Doug Howell pointed to some positives Thursday, praising boosted funding for college-and-career advising that has provided “phenomenal help” to his district. Howell also praised the state for boosted advanced opportunities funding, which provides every Idaho seventh- through 12th-grader with $4,125 to take college classes or Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests.

The money has helped Pocatello students earn over 8,000 college credits, Howell said

Thursday’s meeting was the last of a two-stop “winter tour” to Twin Falls and Pocatello. Ybarra’s stop in Pocatello included a rotary club luncheon and tours to two Pocatello schools.

Other topics from Thursday’s meeting included:

  • Medicaid expansion’s potential impact on state education funding.
  • Clarification on funding and requirements tied to Ybarra’s $18.5 million Keep Idaho Students Safe (KISS) initiative.
  • Shifting from a traditional grading model to a mastery based learning system.
  • Motivating students and staff.

Ybarra’s chief deputy superintendent Peter McPherson also attended.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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