New state law creates uncertainty over teacher salaries

A new state law has school administrators confused about how to handle teacher pay decisions this year.

Education groups raised the issue during the waning days of the 2019 legislative session. And the confusion was a major discussion point during a State Department of Education post-legislative briefing Monday in Boise.

One education group and its legal team are advising school officials to pay out two different minimum salaries. They’re suggesting the Legislature unintentionally created a second, de facto minimum salary requirement — even though legislators specifically said that was not their intention.

The uncertainty surrounds House Bill 293. Introduced late in the session, the law attempts to standardize definitions and adds school reporting requirements, as a possible precursor to writing a new K-12 funding formula.

The problem is, HB 293 conflicts with the career ladder salary law, which governs how the state pays schools for teachers. For years, the state has mandated only a single minimum salary. School officials and local unions negotiate the rest at the bargaining table.

HB 293 defines a local salary schedule. Here’s the problematic language: “Minimum compensation under a local salary schedule shall be at least equal to $38,500, or, for staff holding a professional endorsement, $42,500.”

That second salary level was never mandated.

This is also the point where everyone starts to disagree:

  • Four sponsors of HB 293 signed an April 3 letter saying, “The bill does not require minimum compensation of $42,500 for instructional staff holding a professional endorsement.”
  • In his transmittal letter signing HB 293 into law, Gov. Brad Little wrote, “The current requirement for a minimum salary for educators is provided specifically in Idaho Code sections 33-1004E(1) and 33-1004E(3) and remains unchanged by HB 293.”
  • Confusingly, Deputy Attorney General Leslie Hayes wrote in a March 29 legal opinion to Ybarra “It appears that the practical effect … will be that starting professional pay for first-year teachers will be $42,500.” Hayes appears to confuse the state’s allocation schedule with a minimum salary. She also doesn’t appear to note the distinction between the career ladder’s two salary two rungs: an initial residency rung and a professional rung. Generally speaking, first-year teachers enter the career ladder on the initial residency rung, at the state’s mandated minimum salary. At the initial professional rung — generally covering fourth-year teachers, not first-year teachers — the state pays out $42,500. Hayes also appeared to misunderstand the effect of House Bill 153, which will raise the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 over the next two years, not $42,500 as Hayes claimed.
  • In an April 8 letter to Ybarra, attorneys Amy White and Scott Marotz wrote, “The definition requires there be two minimum salary data points which are clearly the beginning values of the residency and professional rung of the career ladder.”

So what’s the long and short of this?

Quinn Perry, the Idaho School Boards Association’s policy and government affairs director, said she is advising districts to pay $42,500 to everybody who would land on the first professional rung this year.

“Long story short, we believe the safest course of action is to comply with the definitions in salary in House Bill 293,” Perry said. “There could be a risk of a wage claims dispute in not paying the $42,500.”

It’s not like nobody saw this problem coming. During a March 27 hearing in the House Education Committee, Idaho Education Association President Kari Overall warned adding a second minimum salary requirement this late in the game could complicate salary negotiations, which are already underway for the year.

During that same March 27 hearing, Tim Hill, the SDE’s deputy superintendent for public school finance, urged the Legislature to fix the conflict between HB 293 and the career ladder law in order to avoid a potential legal challenge.

Nevertheless, the Legislature passed HB 293 — without corrections — just eight days after it was introduced.

Fast forward to Monday’s post-legislative roadshow event, where Hill shared the four conflicting letters. Hill said in the absence of clear information, he urged school officials to consult with their attorneys before making teacher pay decisions this year.

Hill made clear the state will send all schools $42,500 to pay the educators who land on the first professional rung of the career ladder. What they do with the money is up to the districts and their attorneys.

“On a personal note, I don’t want to have come before you and not be clear on giving you some direction,” Hill said. “For that I apologize.”

About 135 people attended Monday’s roadshow, including numerous Treasure Valley school superintendents, business managers, as well as Legislative Services Office employees, representatives from some key education stakeholder groups, and Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, who sits on the House Education Committee.

The roadshow continues Tuesday in Twin Falls and concludes Wednesday in Idaho Falls.


Clark Corbin

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