Experienced teachers push for better pay amid K-12 funding overhaul

IDAHO FALLS — Better pay for Idaho’s experienced teachers emerged as a recurring topic during a public forum on school funding Tuesday night.

Some 40 people met during the third of six statewide forums, hosted by the Legislature’s school funding formula interim committee.

The committee, now in its third year of work, is attempting to replace an arcane school attendance-based formula with a simpler enrollment-based model.

Barbara Blair, a veteran teacher in the Sugar-Salem School District, said the five-year, $250 million plan to boost teacher pay has primarily helped her less-experienced colleagues. Blair wondered how her paycheck will fare following the funding overhaul.

“It seems like we want new teachers and not veteran teachers,” Blair said.

From a numbers perspective, the 2015 career ladder law is performing as advertised, boosting starting teacher salaries and providing raises for teachers at the lower end of the salary scale. Yet Blair and other veteran teachers said they would like to see the new model emphasize better pay for experienced educators.

Zoe Jorgensen, a veteran teacher in the Idaho Falls School District, acknowledged the State Board of Education’s approval of a new bonus plan in 2017. The master educator premiums are designed to complement the career ladder by rewarding Idaho’s most experienced and accomplished educators.

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However, Jorgensen believes extra funds from the premiums can’t compensate for Idaho Falls’ adoption of the career ladder as a salary schedule.

“I just don’t feel like I can be rewarded like I was before (the career ladder law),” Jorgensen said.

Michael Griffith, a school finance expert with the Education Commission of the States, fielded questions at the forum. He said several concerns have come up in previous meetings — from rewarding experienced teachers to continuing career ladder funding, from supporting smaller districts to providing greater funding flexibility.

Funding flexibility emerged as a theme during the committee’s first public hearing in Boise Thursday.

Griffith said the committee has three more regional meetings in parts of the state with several “small and isolated” districts.

“We also want to hear from them,” Griffith said.

The committee kicked off three weeks of meetings last Wednesday with an invitation-only, closed-door focus group meeting involving school officials and paid ECS consultants.

Altogether, 15 private focus group meetings and six public forums were scheduled. Six meetings remain:

  • Wednesday: Private, invitation-only meetings by day; public forum, 5 to 7 p.m. Red Lion Hotel, 1357 Blue Lakes Blvd., Twin Falls.
  • June 19: Private, invitation-only meetings by day; public forum, 5 to 7 p.m. Coeur d’Alene Resort, 115 S. Second St., Coeur d’Alene.
  • June 20: Private, invitation-only meetings by day; public forum, 5 to 7 p.m. Red Lion, 621 21st St., Lewiston.

The public, the 10 legislators on the funding formula committee, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and her State Department of Education staff and the news media are barred from attending the private focus group meetings, in order to promote a more comfortable atmosphere for those participating, Griffith told Idaho Ed News last week.

Following the public and private meetings, the committees will reconvene July 18 to review feedback and vote on ECS recommendations.

Lawmakers are looking at rewriting the formula during the 2019 legislative session. Rep. Wendy Horman and Senate Education Committee chairman Dean Mortimer, both Idaho Falls Republicans, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

A school-funding survey is also available online through June 30.

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