House Ed takes up teacher salary bill

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Members of the House Education Committee devoted more than five hours to testimony and debate over a $125 million teacher salary bill, but adjourned for the day without calling a vote.

Tuesday Morning Teacher Pay
More than 125 people — many of them educators — crowded into Tuesday’s career ladder hearing at the Statehouse. Photo by Andrew Reed, Idaho Education News.

More than 125 people, some traveling from as far as Idaho Falls and Moscow, crowded into the Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium to speak to the $125 million proposal to raise teacher salaries incrementally over the next five years.

So many people showed up to testify that the meeting was continued into the afternoon.

All told, 50 people testified Tuesday, with 40 of them opposing the career ladder salary proposal.

Although committee members heard testimony from across the state, Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, adjourned the hearing without conducting a vote. It was not immediately clear what implications delaying the committee vote would have for the 2015-16 school budget.

Members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee are scheduled to set the school budget Thursday, and typically would not pay for a major proposal, such as the career ladder, unless it has either first passed the full House or Senate.

DeMordaunt said Marilyn Whitney, Gov. Butch Otter’s education liaison, will present closing arguments on the career ladder bill at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

When asked if he knows when the committee will vote on the bill, DeMordaunt told Idaho Education News “not yet.”

“The next step here is to find out what the will of the committee is on this – whether they feel like this is what we need or whether it needs any tweaking or not,” DeMordaunt said. ”The next step for us is to find out what the will of this committee is.”

The Idaho Education Association and many teachers opposed the bill, while the Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators and Idaho Rural Schools Association supported it.

Second-year special education teacher Elizabeth Clark said the proposal would not address the state’s concerns about recruiting and retaining quality teachers.

Clark, who teaches in the Lewiston School District, said she will relocate to Washington state after the current school year because educators in neighboring states earn significantly more. Clark said a teacher friend of hers in Washington earns $10,000 more a year than she does. Even after the career ladder’s five-year phase-in, Clark said, she’d still be making less than her friend in Washington.

Clark also worried about advancing from the ladder’s residency rung to its professional rung, when movement between the rungs is tied to student growth and evaluation results.

“Teachers need to be encouraged to grow and learn from their mistakes, not fear they will be punished for one bad observation,” Clark said.

Meanwhile, Emmett Superintendent Wayne Rush backed the career ladder, saying many of his concerns from earlier incarnations of the bill have been addressed.

With the state emerging from the recent economic recession, Rush argued for lawmakers to provide a ongoing plan to address teacher salaries that were cut or frozen. Emmett hasn’t been able to pay teachers who hold an advanced degree as much as it did in 2008-09.

He called the career ladder “ a path forward to improve teacher salaries” that provides for accountability and honors the statewide teacher evaluation process.

“We must stop the cultural war against teachers,” Rush said.

Rush also said the state needs a plan to replace the existing salary reimbursement grid because he fears Otter and lawmakers won’t continue to invest in the salary grid.

Upon full implementation in the 2019-20 school year, teacher salaries would break down as follows under the career ladder:

  • Residency teachers in their first three years of service: $37,000 – $39,000.
  • Professional teachers with three or more years of experience who obtain a state endorsement: $42,500 – $50,000.

The current minimum salary set by law is $31,750. That would jump to $32,200 next year, an increase of 1.4 percent. Meanwhile teachers earning the state minimum this year would take home $33,000, a raise of 3.9 percent.

Teachers who already have three  or more years experience would enter the career ladder at the professional rung next year and would not need to worry about advancing from the residency rung.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra attended the hearing Tuesday, but did not testify. Late that afternoon she issued a statement expressing concern with the evaluation and assessment components of the career ladder.

“I would like to put together a cabinet to further review the evaluation tools we currently have in place so we make sure evaluations are applied fairly and with equity,” Ybarra’s statement read, in part.

She continues to favor 3 percent raises for all educators, all the while rolling out a small pilot project version of the career ladder among a handful of school districts.

The career ladder sprang from the 20 recommendations issued in 2013 by Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education. Lawmakers, state officials and education groups spent several weeks this session negotiating the proposal during individual and small group meetings before introducing it on the 52nd day of the legislative session.

On Friday, lawmakers from both political parties expressed concerns with the career ladder and suggested it may not have the votes to make it out of committee.

Read more: Highlights from this morning’s hearing, in Storify format.