Ybarra is pitching her version of a teacher pay bill

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and her staff have written a teacher salary bill — but so far this session, lawmakers have not considered it.

Ybarra first week
State superintendent Sherri Ybarra

The plan would allow 10 school districts to participate in a pilot of the career ladder teacher salary plan, Ybarra said in an interview with Idaho Education News Thursday afternoon. Ybarra would also give all teachers a 3 percent raise next year and roll out a separate tiered licensure plan that she says would not jeopardize an educator’s license.

Ybarra said a pilot project would allow individual districts to test the program in 2015-16. She favors the slow approach because districts could ease into the salary ladder and offer feedback before the state committed to an untested five-year program that would cost $125 million.

The move would also grant more local control, she said. When discussing her pilot project, Ybarra specifically referenced the cost savings districts realized when the state freed districts from the illegal Idaho Education Network contract and allowed them to negotiate their own short-term deals.

“Moving forward (with the pilot project) we would hope to learn where the trouble spots are and get them worked out before taking this on as a statewide venture and seeing another disaster with another large, over $20 million project,” Ybarra said. “We have a history with large projects failing.”

Throughout the session, Ybarra has staged monthly webinars to keep district officials apprised on issues, including teacher pay negotiations. During those webinars, Ybarra said 10 districts have come forward to volunteer to participate in a pilot project.

Ybarra has continued to advocate for the pilot since Wednesday, when House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt shelved a career ladder plan.

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She said she has met with lawmakers since the bill was held, but she and her senior staff were unsure if her proposal would go forward.

“The chairmen have the legislation, but it hasn’t been heard and it wasn’t given a print hearing,” said Tim Corder, a former state senator and a special assistant to Ybarra.

In legislative lingo, a print hearing is the initial hearing conducted when lawmakers decide whether to introduce a new bill.

Ybarra attended Tuesday’s packed House Education Committee hearing, which attracted teachers from across the state.

“I applaud their efforts in coming to testify, and I want to send out a huge thank you to those folks who sent me emails, answered surveys and got involved,” Ybarra said. “We have heard you loud and clear and will do our best to represent you well.”

Ybarra supported DeMordaunt’s decision to hold the bill and seek changes that could strengthen the proposal. She agrees that teacher salaries need to be addressed — and believes higher pay and a culture of mutual respect will pay dividends in terms of student achievement. Citing this week’s report on teacher shortages to the Senate Education Committee, Ybarra said Idaho is in a state of crisis.

Ybarra appeared upbeat and confident during Thursday’s interview, conducted in her office with members of her senior staff at the table. She has been a frequent presence in the Statehouse and at House and Senate education meetings, but she has kept somewhat of a low public profile since her Jan. 29 budget presentation and news conference. She did not testify during Tuesday’s prolonged hearing, and has made few public speeches and has granted few interviews.

Instead, Ybarra said she has been listening, learning and soliciting feedback.

She said her goal, with career ladder negotiations and all of her policy initiatives, is to provide a resource for schools, empower districts and treat educators with dignity.

“Decentralization of education is the way we need to go as we support the profession as much as we can,” Ybarra said. “We’ve spent the past five to eight years in a toxic culture, and it has gotten us absolutely nowhere.”

The career ladder sprang from the 20 recommendations issued in 2013 by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education. At that time, the career ladder did not have all the details attached to it, but garnered unanimous support.

On March 4 lawmakers unveiled the 33-page career ladder bill. The Idaho Education Association and the vast majority of educators who testified Tuesday were in opposition. Two prominent education groups, the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators, supported the career ladder, calling it worthy compromise and a good start to improving teacher pay.

On Friday, Idaho Education News broke the story that members of both parties held concerns about this version of the career ladder and did not believe it had the necessary support to get out of committee.

The House Education Committee is not scheduled to meet Friday, so any new movement on teacher salaries appears to be on hold until next week. The 2015-16 public school budget and the end of the 2015 legislative session are also on hold until a deal is struck.

“I am pleased to know folks are willing to stay longer to talk about solutions,” Ybarra said.