Teacher pay talks play out behind the scenes

With educators becoming anxious, lawmakers are set to consider a career ladder teacher salary proposal Friday morning.

The House Education Committee will consider the proposal at its 9 a.m. meeting.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Committee chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said lawmakers and education groups engaged in negotiations and “mathematical exercise,” attempting to flesh out a plan that could enjoy widespread support.

For weeks, lawmakers and state officials met individually and in small groups behind the scenes trying to draft a bill and strike an agreement. Gov. Butch Otter’s staff, including education liaison Marilyn Whitney, have been involved, as have Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and her special assistant, former state Sen. Tim Corder.

Whitney is scheduled to present the career ladder proposal Friday.

Representatives of the Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators and Idaho School Boards Association have also been at the table.

However, IEA and IASA members said their role was diminished in recent weeks, and they began to question whether a deal can be reached.

“I think we’re running out of time to get something, but our goal is to get policymakers and stakeholders something we both find acceptable,” IASA Executive Director Rob Winslow said before Friday’s agenda was released.

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Penni Cyr

IEA President Penni Cyr echoed Winslow’s comments.

“I will tell you that we have not been very involved at all,” Cyr said. “It’s been quite a while since we talked with any of them, but the stakeholders have been working together on our ideas, etc.”

Stakeholders are concerned, for several reasons.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is tentatively scheduled to set the school budget in two weeks, on March 12. Using past legislative sessions as a rule of thumb, budget-writers are reluctant to add new programs in a budget if it has not already passed at least the House or Senate.

Using the budget schedule as a rough indicator, lawmakers could be poised to adjourn the session March 27 – at which point all bets would be off until 2016 if a teacher pay plan hasn’t materialized.

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House Speaker Scott Bedke

Representatives of the IEA and other stakeholder groups convened a meeting Tuesday with House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, to discuss teacher pay and several other education issues.

In an interview with Idaho Education News Wednesday, Bedke said he told the parties “to go back to the negotiation tables and iron something out that everybody could be proud of and we could all be in favor of.”

Bedke stressed that lawmakers won’t go home until they address teacher salaries.

“We are not going to use the lateness of the session as an excuse to not move or a reason to not move on this issue,” Bedke said. “I have confidence in Chairman DeMordaunt to handle his committee and he knows the importance of this issue. I expect him to come with a bill soon.”

DeMordaunt also said a significant increase in teacher pay is his No. 1 priority for the session.

What to expect in terms of teacher pay

The draft of the proposal that will be considered Friday has not been released publicly. But a couple of potential blueprints for teacher pay increases have surfaced. The most high profile is the $150 million to $175 million career ladder plan approved by the State Board of Education in September. That plan, which sprang out of the 2013 recommendations from Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, would raise minimum teacher salaries to $40,000 over five years. At the same time, so-called master teacher salaries would increase to $58,000 by 2019. The career ladder would replace the state’s existing salary reimbursement grid, based on a teacher’s education attainment and years of experience.

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Superintendent Sherri Ybarra

Meanwhile, Ybarra has called for a slower approach. For next year, she favors funding 3 percent raises for teachers. Ybarra also wants to initiate a small pilot program to test out the career ladder among a small group of school districts or charter schools.

“Three percent across the board is our recommendation,” Ybarra said Tuesday. “The school districts, when they participate in the pilot project, they get to come up with what that looks like.”

DeMordaunt and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, appear to favor aspects of the full career ladder. Mortimer discussed three pay levels: an initial salary level for teachers in their first three years, followed by professional and master teacher levels. This is roughly in line with the concept of State Board’s career ladder plan.

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Gov. Butch Otter

Otter also backs the career ladder and called for spending $31.9 million more on teacher pay next year – which includes bringing minimum salaries up from $31,750 to $32,800.

“(My budget recommendation) provides more funding for teacher training and professional development, and a significant infusion of money for teacher compensation under the new tiered licensure and career ladder proposed by the State Board of Education,” Otter said on Jan. 12.

The State Board’s career ladder may be a blueprint, but Bedke said the final plan may be different.

“Taking nothing away from (the task force and State Board), there is arguably still maybe a little bit of work to do in the eyes of the education committees, so that is what we are doing,” Bedke said.

Lawmakers appeared to be debating the exact amount of money to devote to teacher pay and how to dole it out, which may explain why a bill did not surface earlier.

“All of the time and effort we have put forth, by all parties involved, has been to try and build some consensus in legislation so we go out of the starting gate,” Mortimer said.

At this point, that starting gate appears to be within sight.

“We need to get something out there,” DeMordaunt said. “And the sooner the better.”

Who are the key players?

During numerous interviews this week, lawmakers and education groups identified several people deeply involved with teacher pay negotiations. The list includes:

Lawmakers:

  • DeMordaunt.
  • House Education Committee Vice-Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree.
  • Mortimer.
  • Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls. Horman is a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, and she is expected to carry the school budget on the House floor.

State officials:

  • Ybarra.
  • Corder.
  • Whitney, Otter’s education liaison.
  • State Board of Education members and officials.

Stakeholders

  • Representatives of the ISBA, IEA and IASA.

  • Representatives of the ISBA, IEA and IASA.