Otter: Career ladder fits in 2015-16 budget

(UPDATED, 4 p.m., with comments from Balukoff.)

Gov. Butch Otter says his 2015-16 budget blueprint has money set aside to launch a career ladder program to boost teacher pay.

“It’s within our parameters,” Otter said in a Wednesday interview with Idaho Education News. “I have every confidence that we will get the first year.”

The career ladder plan — endorsed Monday by a State Board of Education subcommittee — carries a five-year price tag of $175 million. First-year costs are projected at $23.7 million, and would climb in subsequent years.

The career ladder is the costliest of the 20 recommendations from Otter’s education reform task force. The idea behind the salary ladder is to increase pay for new teachers and veteran teachers over the course of the rollout. Beginning pay could top out at $40,000 to $42,000, while master teachers would receive $54,000 to $58,000.

But several unanswered questions still surround the career ladder plan.

What happens with tiered licensure? The controversial teacher licensing plan is linked to the career ladder. The Idaho Education Association is a leading critic of the tiered licensure plan, largely because the plan hinges on locally produced performance evaluations. The two candidates for state schools superintendent, Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones, both are urging the state to move slowly on tiered licensure.

On Wednesday, Otter attributed much of the criticism of tiered licensing plan to misunderstandings. While he said he sees nothing wrong with taking a cautious approach, he remains in support. “I feel confident we’re moving in the right direction.”

What happens in future years? The bulk of the career ladder costs are backloaded into the rest of the five-year rollout. Even if the first year is funded, it will be up to the Legislature and the governor to agree on future funding: $38 million in year two; $45.6 million in year three; $36.8 million in year four; and nearly $30.5 million in year five.

Who writes the budgets? Otter is beginning to draft a spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1, 2015. But the budgeting process, of course, is contingent on the outcome of the Nov. 4 election.

On Thursday, Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff voiced skepticism about the plan.

“We clearly need to increase teacher pay in Idaho. But if beginning teachers were given a 3 percent cost-of-living raise each year, in five years they would be at almost $40,000. So taking five years to bring their salary to $40,000 is not much of a raise,” Balukoff said in a statement. “There’s also the related issue of the current dissatisfaction among teachers over the tiered-licensure proposal that has to be worked out. I believe we need to give teachers a stronger voice in decisions that affect our public schools.”

The next state superintendent will also have a chance to put her imprint on the K-12 budget. Outgoing Superintendent Tom Luna included $23.7 million in career ladder money into his 2015-16 budget blueprint.





Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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