Ybarra pledges to pay for all master teacher bonuses

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra is committing to find the money to award salary incentives to every experienced teacher who meets the requirements of the new master educator premium program, her staff said this week.

In her 2020 budget request, Ybarra will ask the Legislature for $12 million to pay for master educator premiums, bonuses designed to reward the state’s best and most experienced teachers. This week, her staff said that if $12 million is not enough, Ybarra will pull money out of the state’s rainy day education savings account, the Public Education Stabilization Fund, to cover the difference.

“Most importantly, however many ultimately apply for the master educator premium, every applicant who meets the requirements will receive her or his $4,000 premium,” SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine wrote in an email Thursday.

On the other hand, if $12 million is too much, any surplus would be returned to the rainy day account, Rodine said.

The Idaho Legislature created the master educator premiums as a way to reward experienced teachers who perform at the highest levels and demonstrate mastery of their teaching technique and all facets of professional practice.

Educators who earn the premium will receive an extra $4,000 per year for three consecutive years, on top of their normal salary.

But there is a high bar for earning the premiums. Educators must have been practicing for at least eight years to be eligible. They must also submit a detailed portfolio documenting exemplary practice in the areas of leadership, professional collaboration and partnerships, students and the learning environment, content, instruction, assessment and professional growth.

Ybarra will bring her funding request to the 2019 Legislature, which will ultimately decide the specific funding available for the master educator premiums. The Legislature sets the state budget each year, and that budget must be signed into law by the governor, or at least avoid the governor’s veto stamp.

How many teachers are interested?

A recent State Department of Education survey shows how difficult it is to predict the number of teachers who will apply for the premiums.

This year, the SDE surveyed district and charter administrators, asking them to provide a “guestimate” of the number of teachers who would apply.

Results were all over the board.

  • About half of all districts and charter school administrators did not respond to the survey. Among those who didn’t respond were West Ada, the state’s largest district. Without West Ada and dozens of other districts and charters in the mix, it is more difficult to predict how many teachers will apply.
  • Among the districts that did apply, interest in the premiums was mixed.
  • Seventeen district or charter administrators said zero teachers would apply.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Boise reported that 1,200 teachers would apply.
  • Another large district, Caldwell, estimated that just four of its 334 teachers would apply.
  • The Lakeland School District estimated 200 teachers, or more than 81 percent of educators, would apply.
  • One district even replied that it would be impossible to estimate how many teachers would apply.

Rodine said the survey guesstimates did not determine the 2,500 estimate and the funding request, but was one of several pieces of information Ybarra considered before finalizing her budget. The survey information was voluntarily and not crucial for determining policy decisions or budget request, which is why the SDE did not follow up with the districts that did not respond, Rodine said.

While Ybarra based her budget on 2,500 teachers receiving the premiums, the survey guesstimate indicated 2,389 teachers would apply. That survey guesstimate doesn’t include any teachers from West Ada or about half of Idaho’s school districts and charters.

What are teachers saying?

Melyssa Ferro






Melyssa Ferro, the 2016 Idaho Teacher of the Year, is planning to submit a portfolio application. She said many of her colleagues are feeling anxious about the process, which may explain Caldwell’s low estimate. They wonder what level of funding the Legislature will approve. On top of that, Ferro says they are concerned about the amount of work it will take to develop their portfolio and find artifacts providing evidence of masterful teaching.

Ferro said she has read guideline suggesting it will take 80 hours or more of work to develop the portfolio, which is due to be submitted in June 2019. A State Board of Education “frequently asked questions” post suggests it could take between 40 and 80 hours, depending on the individual.

“One of the stumbling blocks is just sheer overwhelming-ness of portfolio process,” Ferro said. “I can either be an incredible teacher or I make you a portfolio that shows I’m an incredible teacher, I can’t do both.”

Caldwell Superintendent Shalene French said she got the estimated of four teachers from the Caldwell Education Association.

How can school districts help?

Ferro said one thing school administrators can do to support their staffs is to carve out time for teachers to work together in small groups or professional learning communities to support each other as they develop the portfolios. Ferro also suggested scaling back the portfolio process and instead asking state and district leaders to look at teachers’ experience, professional resumes and then talk to their students and parents of students, rather than asking teachers to put in all the work.

“My actions speak louder than any portfolio I can put together, don’t make me jump through hoops,” Ferro said.

In Boise, where the majority of educators and certified staff are expected to apply, the district is focusing on providing training opportunities at each school building, Human Resources Director Nick Smith said. For the past three years, district officials have tried to help educators understand the premium program. Smith has also met with leaders of the Boise Education Association and is looking at a program to allow teachers to work in small groups to help each other on their portfolios — similar to what Ferro suggested for Caldwell.

“We don’t want (our educators) to come back and say ‘We didn’t know what we were supposed to do or how to do it,’” Smith said. “We want to make sure they had all the information we could give them.”

Boise officials came up with their estimate of surveying each building principal, who surveyed their staffs, Smith said.

Where did Ybarra’s $12 million request come from?

After checking with Associate Deputy Superintendent for School Finance Tim Hill, Rodine said Ybarra talked with officials from the State Board of Education, Gov. Butch Otter’s office and the legislative services office, to base her $12 million request on 2,500 teachers receiving the premiums, plus costs for the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho and Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes.

“There’s no way to know whether that number will prove to be accurate in June 2019, but it’s a best guess,” Rodine wrote in an email.


Clark Corbin

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