Teacher salary hearing planned for Friday

The House Education Committee appeared to clear the decks for a teacher salary showdown, set for Friday morning at the Statehouse. (Click here for complete coverage of Friday’s meeting, including the results of how lawmakers voted and a photo gallery).

On Thursday, committee members voted to introduce the third version of a career ladder teacher salary bill – the second such bill in as many days.

The new, new teacher salary bill still creates two basic rungs on the ladder – a residency rung for teachers in their first three years in the profession and a residency rung for more experienced educators.

Thursday’s major change involves a $4,000-per-year bonus for master teachers. Under the revised plan, groups of teachers would be able to apply together to receive financial awards.

Marilyn Whitney, Gov. Butch Otter’s education liaison, said the change means teachers from an entire grade level, subject area or entire school could work together to reach the benchmarks needed to trigger the salary bonus. Whitney still estimated that 20 to 25 percent of teachers statewide would earn the bonuses.

DeMordaunt New
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

In an interview after the meeting, Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said there is “no question” the latest career ladder is stronger and more palatable than the first two.

“This legislation has been well vetted, and with legislation this important, that’s probably a good thing,” DeMordaunt said.

New Plymouth Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, superintendent of his local school district, remained silent during Thursday’s debate over the career ladder. Kerby was one of the most skeptical lawmakers considering the career ladder, and his objections Wednesday led to revisions introduced Thursday.

On Wednesday, Kerby had called the career ladder “a bitter pill” to swallow.

While Kerby was silent, Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, expressed his dissatisfaction with the latest version unveiled Thursday. McDonald asked several pointed questions about the ability of groups of teachers to win a master teacher bonus. He stressed that he wanted more neutral, detached reviews of the master teacher bonus system. He feared that teachers and school administrators would be able to write their own goals and benchmarks allowing them to receive the salary bonuses.

“I’ve got a bunch of questions, Mr. chairman, and I don’t now I’m satisfied by this,” McDonald told DeMordaunt during the meeting.

Veteran lawmaker Richard Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, led the push to introduce the newest career ladder bill Thursday. In doing so, he acknowledged the division with the committee, which led to numerous revisions coming forward.

“This has been a long, arduous process,” Wills said. “I’ve been here a number of years, and I have only seen this occur one other time (where) it took this long to really come to a place where I think most people will be satisfied, and I want to thank (the) chairman.”

DeMordaunt killed the original career ladder bill March 11 after dozens of teachers and members of both political parties expressed numerous concerns. The second career ladder bill was quietly pushed aside hours after it was introduced Wednesday when the newer version appeared on the committee’s agenda.

Over the past 24 hours or so, the tone of the debate appeared to change as revisions were announced. On Wednesday afternoon, the Idaho Education Association called the second version of the career ladder imperfect but a “beginning step toward attracting and retaining teachers.” The IEA had been one of the leading opponents of the salary proposal.

Friday’s hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Full hearings, such as the one planned for Friday morning, represent the public’s opportunity to weigh in and provide testimony to lawmakers.

The stakes are high heading into the hearing. With concerns over teacher recruitment and retention playing out across the state, lawmakers are engaged in deep debate over teacher salaries and accountability. The career ladder is easily the most high-profile education bill of the session, and the 2015-16 school budget and adjournment have been put on hold while the salary debate plays out in committee.

A vote to pass the career ladder would send the proposal to the House floor for consideration by all 70 representatives. If it passes, budget writers might decide to set next year’s school budget with the new teacher salary proposal factored in.

If it clears the House, the bill would head to the Senate, where the process would essentially start over.

But if the new career ladder dies in committee Friday or on the House floor, lawmakers would likely need to regroup and continue negotiating a salary plan. That defeat would continue to delay work on the school budget and further extend the legislative session.

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