Analysis: Ybarra’s silence on master educator premiums

The first year of the master educator premium program is in the books — and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra isn’t talking.

Through spokeswoman Kris Rodine, Ybarra declined comment on the first-year process, which will provide 1,226 veteran teachers with $4,000 bonuses this year, but left some teachers grumbling about a time-consuming application and delays in the review process. (The State Board of Education awarded premiums this week, three months after the application deadline, and a month after its self-imposed deadline.)

I asked Ybarra three questions about master educator premiums:

  1. Is she satisfied with the way this process played out?
  2. Does she support this program going forward?
  3. Or does she want the state to take a different approach to rewarding veteran teachers?

In fairness, the job of administering these premiums fell to the State Board, not Ybarra’s State Department of Education. Still, these three questions seem reasonable to ask of Idaho’s elected superintendent of public instruction, and a voting member of the State Board.

As Ybarra is doubtlessly aware, the rollout of the master educator premium has been imperfect at best.

Some veteran teachers groused about being expected to make a case for a pay raise, while less experienced teachers received raises through the state’s career ladder teacher salary program. Some teachers were turned off by the 80- to 120-hour time commitment required to complete an application. It appears that thousands of eligible teachers decided not to apply at all — including no less respected an educator than 2018-19 Idaho Teacher of the Year Marc Beitia.

The arduous application requirements rankled Bill Gilbert, a Boise businessman who co-chairs Gov. Brad Little’s Our Kids, Idaho’s Future K-12 task force. “If I took my top performing people and I required them to do something in order to earn additional money that took 100 hours out their life, I could tell you what would happen to my retention rate,” Gilbert said in July.

None of this should be news to Ybarra. She is a member of Little’s K-12 task force.

So the future of the master educator premium program is open to debate. And it seems fair to ask Ybarra for her opinion. Recruiting and retaining teachers, after all, falls under the public policy bailiwick of her office.

While Ybarra doesn’t have to respond to questions from Idaho Education News, she does have to submit a budget request to Little’s office.

Here’s what we know from the 2019-20 request Ybarra submitted in August.

Her request includes $40 million for teacher salaries — specifically for veteran teachers who have been largely left behind by five years of raises for less experienced colleagues. Said Ybarra: “We still need to do more for our experienced teachers, recognizing their value and encouraging them to stay in Idaho schools despite higher pay in other states.”

Ybarra also recommended $7.2 million for master educator premiums — no change from this year’s budget, and, as we’ve since learned, more than enough to cover the $4.9 million in premiums the State Board awarded this week.

But Ybarra’s request isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the premiums. It might merely hold the line. The premium program promises $12,000 in bonuses over three years. Regardless of whether the state awards a whole new batch of premiums in 2020, the state made a pledge to the class of 2019. Honoring that commitment would gobble up, well, a good chunk of a $7.2 million line item.

So what does Ybarra think about master educator premiums?

She really isn’t saying.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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