Teacher pay overlooked in governor’s budget

Gov. Butch Otter’s budget proposal does not include a pay raise or bonuses for teachers — drawing criticism  from two longtime adversaries, Superintendent Tom Luna and the Idaho Education Association.

Otter did not recommend a decrease or an increase in teacher pay for 2014-15. He removed $21 million in one-time money from the 2013-14 budget: money districts could use for locally crafted merit pay plans and professional development, but his budget would keep $8.25 million in place for professional development.

Luna is categorizing that as a reduction in compensation.

“My only concern is that the governor’s budget proposes reducing overall teacher compensation in order to help schools pay the light bill. I cannot support that,” Luna said shortly after Otter’s State of the State address Monday. “I believe we have the funding and the plan to accomplish both, and I will fight to ensure we continue to improve teacher compensation this year and in the future.”

IEA president Penni Cyr agreed.

“Idaho educators are going to be disappointed that Gov. Otter has decided to kick the salary can down the road,” Cyr said. “Countless times over the past few years educators have been promised that when the economy recovered so, too, would their pocketbooks. The governor has missed the mark in not providing tangible recognition for teachers.”

During a news conference after the speech, Otter countered by saying there is “a lot of room for negotiation in there,” referring to the legislative and budgeting process that happens over the coming months.

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Teachers earning the minimum salary got a bump in pay last fall from $30,500 to $31,000. Other teachers got raises, too, when $11.3 million was devoted to “unfreezing” two years on the teacher salary schedule. Salaries are set at the local level.

Luna’s budget recommended spending $42.5 million to begin phasing in a career ladder teacher pay plan, as was recommended by Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.  He assembled a committee to come up with the tiered teacher licensure plan that would be central to the salary ladder, but its rule-making work won’t be done in time for the 2014 session.

The majority of the 20 task force recommendations were endorsed by the governor and that got praise from Luna and Cyr, who both served on the task force.

“I am pleased he made the implementation of our task force recommendations a priority,” Luna said.

Cyr said: “We commend Gov. Otter for convening the bipartisan task force and for his support of the recommendations.”

Otter, Luna and Cyr all voiced continued support for Idaho Core Standards. The standards, now in place in Idaho classrooms, have received criticism from some lawmakers and parent groups.

“Increased rigor through the Idaho Core Standards, improved technology in the classroom, local district autonomy and a restoration of operational funding are all crucial components in improving the quality of education in Idaho,” Cyr said. “The IEA applauds the growing realization that public education is the key to Idaho’s future prosperity, but education doesn’t happen without quality teachers, and that critical piece of the equation has been overlooked in Gov. Otter’s proposed budget.”

More reading from Gov. Otter’s State of the State:

• From Clark Corbin: a detailed look at Otter’s budget proposal.

• From Kevin Richert: an analysis of Otter’s budget balancing act.

Kevin Richert’s live blog from Otter’s state of the state address.

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