No bill yet, but career ladder plan surfaces

The highly anticipated career ladder teacher salary proposal surfaced in the House Education Committee Friday – but only as a concept, not yet an official bill.

DeMordaunt VanOrden Feb 2015
House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and Vice Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, discuss teacher pay Friday at the Statehouse.

Committee members spent an hour dissecting the proposal to raise teacher salaries incrementally over five years.

As presented by Marilyn Whitney, Gov. Butch Otter’s education liaison, the career ladder plan would include two salary rungs and raise minimum teacher salaries from $31,750 to $37,000 upon its full implementation.

Next year, rookie educators would earn $32,200, a 1.4-percent increase.

However, this year’s first-year teachers earning the state minimum would be in line to make $33,000 in 2015-16, which is a 3.9 percent increase.

Lawmakers, state officials and education stakeholders negotiated the plan during individual and small group meetings staged over the last several weeks. The proposal is designed so that all teachers would see their salary increase during each year of implementation, Whitney said.

The first rung on the career ladder would be an initial residency tier for beginning teachers, followed by a professional rung for educators with more than three years of experience who meet performance standards.

Upon full implementation on July 1, 2019, salary reimbursement levels would break down as follows:

  • Residency teachers: $37,000 to $39,000.
  • Professional teachers: $42,500 to $50,000.

Other incentives are factored into the 33-page proposal. Educators who earn a master’s degree would be eligible for an additional $3,500, while the most accomplished “master teachers” would be eligible for a $4,000 annual leadership premium upon meeting state and local benchmarks.

With both incentives factored in, master teachers with advanced degrees would be able to earn up to $57,500 per year. In order to qualify as a master teacher, educators would need to amass a minimum of eight years of experience and demonstrate mastery of instructional techniques and evidence of student growth among a majority of their students.

Traditionally, lawmakers convene an introductory print hearing on draft legislation. But House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said he wanted lawmakers to conduct a “discussion-based hearing” and have more time to digest the proposal before officially considering introduction.

“Normally we would never do something like this, it’s highly unusual,” DeMordaunt said. “There has been so much talk about this that we just needed to kind of set the stage for the full discussion.”

The career ladder would replace the state’s existing salary reimbursement grid, which is based on teachers’ years of service and educational attainment. Just as today, school districts would continue to negotiate and set salaries annually at the local level.

The career ladder would not affect non-instructional staff members, such as custodians, I.T. directors or librarians. Lawmakers instead pledged to review their compensation levels next year.

Last year, the State Board of Education approved a proposal that called for increasing minimum salaries to $40,000, which is 8 percent more than the proposal before the Legislature.

Whitney estimated the career ladder would cost $30 million next year, roughly in line with Otter’s recommendation to devote $31.9 million more to teacher compensation in the 2015-16 budget.

Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria said her initial impression of the plan is positive – although she still needs to read the bill before adopting an official position.

“We always said we’ll work with the (committee) chairs and governor to do everything we can to get this $31.9 million in the hands of our teaching staff,” Echeverria said. “At first blush, I think it sounds pretty good. The initial concerns we have had have been addressed.”

DeMordaunt said the education committee will officially consider introducing the bill as early as next week.

Late Friday afternoon, Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr released a statement expressing frustration with the career ladder proposal.

“The proposed salary apportionment levels are not sufficient to address the No. 1 goal of this legislation—to help Idaho attract and retain quality teachers,” Cyr said. “The current plan fails to recognize the value of experienced teachers, takes far too long to fully activate and will not come close to keeping pace with compensation levels in surrounding states.”

After the hearing, DeMordaunt praised everyone involved in negotiating and drafting the proposal.

“It is incredible what we are doing for teacher compensation here,” DeMordaunt said. “The percentage increases from year to year, those are substantial. I think it sends a clear message that we want to make teacher salaries competitive.”

The proposal was subject to numerous revisions, and the draft presented Friday was only finished that morning. Whitney said Otter remains committed to the career ladder, but has not yet read the latest draft.

Tim Corder, special assistant to state superintendent Sherri Ybarra attended Friday’s discussion, but Ybarra did not.

Ybarra said this week she favors a 3 percent raise for all teachers next year, coupled with a small pilot program version of the career ladder among a small group of school districts or charter schools.