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Teacher pay

Mara Howard, a first-grade teacher at Horizon Elementary School in Jerome, works as a waitress at her second job Nov. 1 at Scooter's Chillin' -N- Grillin' in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — Magic Valley school officials say a proposal to raise Idaho’s minimum teacher salary to $40,000 over two years is a great step and they’re grateful, but they’re concerned about pay for experienced teachers.

The House Education Committee passed House Bill 153 on Wednesday. The bill aims to raise the minimum base salary to $38,500 next school year and $40,000 for the 2020-21 school year.

“I appreciate the efforts that the governor and the Legislature are making to up those minimum salaries to attract teachers,” Jerome School District Superintendent Dale Layne said. “It’s needed.”

But on the flip side, something needs to be done about salaries for teachers with 10-plus years of experience, he said. “They’ve seen very little raise over the last couple of years.”

This school year, the minimum Idaho teacher salary is $35,800. Some Magic Valley school districts add money to supplement their salary schedules beyond what the state provides. Teacher pay is negotiated each year between school districts and teachers unions.

Idaho’s five-year career ladder law — which is in its fourth year — was designed to boost pay to better attract and retain teachers amidst a statewide teacher shortage.

In addition to funding the last year of the career ladder, Gov. Brad Little’s proposed budget for next fiscal year includes about $11.46 million to raise the starting salary for teachers. But under the House bill, money would be allocated over two years instead: $3.79 million the first year and $7.66 million the second.

Improving minimum teacher pay is much needed, said Darin Gonzales, president of the Kimberly Education Association (a teachers union). Gonzales, who started teaching in 1991, has been a math teacher at Kimberly High School since 1999.

“It’s a great incentive,” he said, noting Idaho needs great people coming into education.

Before teachers get too far into their career, Gonzales said, they can gain experience by using Idaho as a stepping stone and then find a job in another state. “There are a lot of people who don’t stay.”

But veteran teachers who’ve dedicated their lives to teaching and to Idaho “have been shortchanged over and over again,” Gonzales said, adding that’s tough on morale.

The problem isn’t going to get better until state legislators act, he said. He understands they’re trying and it’s tough with state budget constraints, but, Gonzales said, it’s a matter of prioritizing what’s important.

“I think it’s going to bite them in the next five to 10 years until they address the veteran teachers who’ve stayed loyal to the state,” he said.

Experienced teachers are the foundation of education, Gonzales said. He said he has longtime colleagues down the hallway from him at Kimberly High who have classes that run so well, have few discipline problems among students and they’re experts in their field.

“It’s humbling to watch,” he said.

Beyond teacher pay, there’s also a need to address school administrator and classified staff pay, Gonzales said.

Idaho needs to recruit teachers and increasing the minimum salary will help with that, said Peggy Hoy, co-president of the Twin Falls Education Association.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Hoy, instructional coach at Vera C. O’Leary Middle School. She said she’s excited about Little’s vision for Idaho education.

However, it’s hard when pay increases amounting to thousands of dollars are given to teachers who are just starting out in their career, Hoy said, but teachers who have been “in the trenches” and who mentor new teachers are seeing much lower increases.

Brady Dickinson, superintendent of the Twin Falls School District, said he’s appreciative of the work being done over the last five years to improve teacher pay in Idaho. It will help get more teachers into the pipeline, he said, and attract more young teachers.

“The career ladder has been a huge step forward for Idaho and we’ve made tremendous strides,” Dickinson said.

The Twin Falls School District supplements pay beyond what the state provides for some rungs on the career ladder, but not for the minimum teacher salary.

It’s concerning there hasn’t been much done for experienced teachers. Dickinson said, and he hopes that will be addressed in the coming years.

“You’re starting to see more frustration for veteran teachers.”

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