Idaho Teacher 'Career Ladder' Bill Held in Committee

by

ADAM ROSENLUND
  • ADAM ROSENLUND
The opposition was overwhelming during a March 10 public hearing for House Bill 222, which adjusts Idaho teacher salaries to follow a so-called "career ladder" and changes evaluation standards. More than 100 people—mostly educators—turned out to testify on the bill before the House Education Committee, with some coming from as far as Moscow and Coeur d'Alene.

Over the course of nearly six hours of testimony, the committee heard concerns focused on the bill's wage proposal, which would establish a complex system of tiered salaries based on years of experience, ranging from $32,200 for a first-year teacher to $50,000 for teachers with eight or more years in the classroom. The raises would be rolled out over a five-year period beginning at the start of the 2015/2016 school year.

One teacher testified that the plan gives educators in five years what they should be making today, and the salary increase still does not compete with surrounding states.

Another often repeated concern centered on raises tied to teacher evaluations. Those testifying said raises shouldn't be determined by students meeting certain proficiency standards.

Moscow elementary school teacher Susan Mahoney teaches Title I classes for kindergarten students to fifth-graders. She said working with children who need special attention would put her at a salary disadvantage because her students are less likely to meet proficiency standards.

"For many of my own students, their influence outside of school is not positive," she told the committee. "Their parents are divorced, in jail, verbally or physically abusive, abusing alcohol and drugs, living in poverty. They don't know where the next meal is coming from. These students can't focus on their schoolwork the way they need to when there are so many bad influences outside of school. All they can count on is their free lunch at school."

Mahoney pointed out that these children often don't have books at home. They have no enriching educational experiences until the age of 5.

"To expect them to show that growth of an expected grade level and meet those targets is unrealistic," she said. "That's a system failure, not a failure of me as a teacher."

Teachers also took issue with the bill's proposed evaluation system, because they didn't feel comfortable with their performance evaluation and potential salary relying on an evaluator who only has a brief amount of time to review them.

On the morning of March 11, the Education Committee took up the discussion again as committee members asked final questions of Marilyn Whitney, the governor's senior special assistant for Education and Government Services. Whitney addressed many of the concerns brought up by teachers during the public hearing.

Whitney said student progress would be based on a district-by-district framework, rather than a statewide test. She said independent evaluation reviews would be handled by qualified instructors from colleges of education around the state. She also said there is a need to increase salary in this state, and that's the intent of HB 222.

"It will bring financial stability to rural areas and make them more competitive with urban districts," Whitney told the committee. 

After 30 minutes of questions from the committee, Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, decided to hold the bill without a motion.

"With some minor tweaks, this could be a better bill," he said. "My recommendation is to hold it and let it sit right where it's at."

DeMordaunt didn't offer any specific amendments to the bill, nor did he mention when he'd like to see it come up for further discussion or a vote. After a few committee members asked what would happen next with the bill, he assured them it would undergo some "minor tweaks" and no motion was necessary.

Boise Democratic Rep. Hy Kloc, who sits on the Education Committee, told Boise Weekly that the bill makers were meeting with each committee member individually to get a better sense of how the  measure should be changed. Kloc's biggest concerns mirror those of the teachers. He thinks the five-year plan to roll out pay raises is too complex and that a 3 percent raise should be given in 2015, rather than the 1.4 percent raise proposed in HB 222. 

"Teachers would rather see the money up front, then work on developing something on the back end," Kloc said. 

Kloc was also uncomfortable with the evaluation framework laid out in the bill. He said teachers are nervous about their salaries and movement up the career ladder being dependent on an evaluation that may last an hour or two of class time.

"This bill would have gone down to defeat as is," Kloc said. "Enough people were going to vote against it."

Whether or not the "minor tweaks" attached the measure are enough to sway educators in favor remains to be seen. Regardless, the sponsors will need to hurry to get it back in front of the committee.

"They only have two weeks," Kloc said.