POST FALLS — The state and school district have done a respectable job in recent years when it comes to education salaries, but more needs to be done to prevent losing quality employees to neighboring states that pay more, the lead negotiator for the Post Falls teachers' union said.
"Washington salaries are the elephant in the room," Jake Smulkowski of the Post Falls Education Association said. "The state Legislature (in Idaho) needs to increase funding for the retention of quality public school teachers."
The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy reported last month that Idaho teachers averaged $47,504 a year in 2016-17, ranking 43rd in the nation.
Idaho is in the fourth year of a five-year teacher career ladder pay plan aimed at making the state more competitive.
Idaho's pay is comparable to that of some other states where teachers have gone on strike, the center reported. The report states one in five Idaho teachers don’t return to their school the next year. That attrition rate is nearly 4 percentage points higher than the national average.
A public information request made by The Press to the Post Falls School District shows that the vast majority of teachers in the district last year made between $35,000 and $65,000. One elementary teacher, however, made $89,743 as a salary and $32,583 in benefits. A teacher at the high school made $82,069 and $25,845 in benefits.
Examples of staff salaries include: custodial supervisor, $38,000; elementary administrative assistants, most $24,000 to $27,000; head coaches, most in the $5,000 range except track at $16,220; para professionals, most between $11,000 and $27,000; and kitchen managers, $18,000 to $27,000.
Three employees made salaries of more than $100,000 — superintendent, $132,851; assistant superintendent, $119,976; and Title I administrator, $114,000.Those three were also among nine employees who received at least $30,000 in benefits. Others included the business manager, who had a salary of $97,624; two secondary principals, two elementary teachers and a substitute teacher.
School employees contribute 6.79 percent of their salary to the state retirement plan and the district contributes 11.32 percent.
Most elementary principals made between $82,000 and $89,000 and secondary principals $87,000 to $99,000.
The district and PFEA in June agreed to a 2.5 salary increase for all district employees, equating to $1.09 million.
Superintendent Jerry Keane said the goal with employee salaries is to be competitive with other districts both in Kootenai County and the state.
"The three local districts have very comparable teacher salaries," Keane said. "Because we all have to compete with Washington and Spokane, our salaries are very competitive in the state.
"The Washington issue is going to be even more challenging as a result of a lawsuit brought against that state that changed their funding and increased Washington salaries by about 20 percent."
Smulkowski said he believes the district has done its best to offer competitive salaries.
"Washington schools are at a competitive advantage in attracting teachers because their Legislature is funding public education at a much higher level," Smulkowski said.
Post Falls' salaries compare "favorably" compared to similar-sized Idaho districts, Smulkowski said.
"A handful pay more, but many pay less, especially in rural areas and farther from state borders," he said.
Keane said the biggest salary challenge is to recruit and retain teachers.
"It has been widely advertised that quality teachers are in short supply," he said. "Idaho has made progress regarding paying entry-level salaries, but we have a long way to go regarding retaining our well-trained and experienced staff. Currently, the state only provides about $50,000 for our most well-trained staff. We have had several veteran teachers leave for Washington this summer for higher salaries."
Keane said progress also needs to be made regarding classified staff salaries.
Idaho has done a good job of funding the career ladder plan established by Gov. Butch Otter, but the recommendation to raise the top-end salary reimbursement from the state to the district to $60,000 has not happened, Keane said.
The majority of the district salaries are funded through a salary-based apportionment formula from the state. The number of students dictates how much money the district receives from the state for salaries.
The Legislature is in the process of changing the school funding formula. A major change being discussed is to alter the formula from average daily attendance to enrollment.
"Districts have lobbied the (legislative) committee to provide more funding for classified positions that require significant qualifications and to provide funding to help retain our most experienced and trained teachers," Keane said.
Keane said he's concerned about whether a new funding formula will pit small districts against large ones.
"The committee has made statements that they will do everything they can to avoid having winners and losers," he said.
Smulkowski said he believes it will be the students who ultimately suffer as a result of quality teachers leaving for greener pastures.
"Public schools are cornerstones of the future," he said. "We will be building more prisons tomorrow if we don't build quality schools today. We need to invest thoughtfully in public schools, and that starts with investing in staff."
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To review the entire list of salaries on cdapress.com, see Post Falls School District Salaries 2017-18