DeMordaunt calls for new teacher salary bill

The chairman of the House Education Committee on Wednesday called for a new proposal to address teacher salaries in Idaho.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Lawmakers spent more than five hours on debate and public testimony on the $125 million teacher salary career ladder bill Tuesday. But they did not vote on the proposal Tuesday, or Wednesday morning, when they reconvened to wrap up closing arguments.

Instead, Chairman Reed DeMordaunt said “some minor changes” would make the bill stronger.

“We need to improve this bill,” DeMordaunt told reporters after the meeting. “I think we had some good feedback yesterday (that) indicated there are some things in there maybe we didn’t all see the first time.”

The changes DeMordaunt referenced will come in the form of a new, rewritten bill for committee members to consider. That bill is likely to materialize “if not by the end of this week, the first of next week.” DeMordaunt said.

He told committee members the changes will be minor, so he does not expect a new bill to go through the same lengthy vetting process that the original career ladder was subjected to. DeMordaunt declined to address what changes may be coming, saying doing so would be premature.

On Friday, Idaho Education News broke the story that members of both political parties held concerns about the first career ladder bill, House Bill 222, and believed that it did not have the votes to pass out of committee.

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So what does this mean?

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House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

In terms of the big picture, the 2015 legislative session is in its 59th day, and lawmakers still have not reached an agreement on teacher salaries. In a Wednesday afternoon interview, House Speaker Scott Bedke restated his position that lawmakers will not adjourn for the year until they address teacher salaries.

“That is my expectation; I don’t think that we can leave this session without having addressed that issue,” Bedke said.

When it comes to teacher pay, Bedke said there is a difference in his mind between simply adding across-the-board raises to the school budget and crafting policy to implement a career ladder recommendation that sprang from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

“We need to address the policy issues that have been brought to us by the Governor’s Task Force on Education,” Bedke said. “I’m still hopeful that we will find a combination of things that are able to accomplish the letter and the spirit of the task force recommendations, as well as address the concerns that some of the people in the Education Committee have at this point.”

Bedke and other members of legislative leadership had said they were working to adjourn the session on March 27, just more than two weeks from now.

That deadline appears to be in tatters. When asked if he is prepared to keep lawmakers at the Statehouse after March 27 to work on teacher salaries, Bedke replied “We’re here, yeah.”

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Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome

As DeMordaunt put the brakes on the career ladder bill Wednesday morning, JFAC also put off a critical hearing to write a public schools budget proposal. That work was scheduled for Thursday, but it now appears unlikely that the K-12 budget will come up until next week. (Details on Kevin Richert’s blog.)

After DeMordaunt took action, JFAC Co-chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told Idaho Education News that her budget committee would give DeMordaunt’s committee time to work on teacher salaries before taking up the school budget.

Bell doesn’t want budget-writers to get out in front of the House Education Committee’s debate on teacher salary policy.

“We have time, the money is set aside, and it has been all along,” Bell said. “There is 7.4 percent (for an increase in school funding) in all my budget plans and all of our budget plans.”

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Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

Gov. Butch Otter has also called for increasing pubic school funding by 7.4 percent next year.

Bell said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, has been working overtime to calculate numerous budget scenarios in the school budget — including scenarios where the $125 million career ladder plan passes and where it fails.

Horman plans to help set the school budget and carry it on the House floor.

“The work that has gone on constantly by Rep. Horman and her group is looking at all options and it won’t take any time at all to put a budget on the table once we have policy,” Bell said, with Horman by her side. “If (House Education members) come forth and say we do not have a plan, then that is the plan. But at this point they are still working on a plan.”