Teacher pay day

Otter signs law to boost beginning pay for Idaho educators over five years

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Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signs a new law planning to boost teacher pay over the next five years in Boise on Thursday. The new law will steadily increase rookie teacher to $37,000 a year by 2020.

COEUR d'ALENE - Beginning teachers' yearly salaries will rise nearly $1,000 starting July 1 under a $125 million proposal the governor signed into law Thursday.

Lawmakers have promised to raise teacher pay since they slashed the public schools budget in 2009 due to the economic downturn.

Currently, beginning teachers' salaries in the Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls School districts start at $31,750 a year.

"As far as getting more money for teachers, we are pretty excited about that," said Post Falls School District Superintendent Jerry Keane, adding the district is still trying to figure out how to apply the new rules.

Coeur d'Alene Superintendent Matt Handelman said the new career funding mechanism is going to be a challenge.

"I am eager to find out its real effect on our local salaries," he said. "It will be a complex and complicated process to convert to this new career ladder funding mechanism."

Under the new salary ladder, beginning teacher salaries would increase almost $1,000 to $32,700 a year, starting in July.

Over the next five years, first-year teacher pay would increase to $37,000 a year. However, the proposal depends on state revenue increasing 5.2 percent each year in order to fully fund it.

The legislation also comes with new accountability measures added to appease lawmakers hesitant to approve a pricey proposal without oversight.

Figuring out how that works and developing a new way to distribute the raises across various pay grades will be a challenge, the superintendents said.

Keane said the current pay structure is going to change, and he hopes the Idaho Department of Education's post-legislative briefing on April 13 will provide administrators a better understanding of how to accomplish that.

"As a district, we are trying to gather as much information as we can right now," he said. "We don't know for sure what this is going to do at the local level."

Teachers will be split into two tiers. Beginning teachers will be placed in a residency category for their first three years. If they meet certain benchmarks, they would then advance into a professional tier.

Professional-tier teachers would earn $42,000 to $50,000 a year depending on experience and education levels. After eight years, teachers could then work toward bonuses.

A governor's task force recommended raising teacher pay in 2013, and it has been one of the most difficult pieces of legislation to pass.

"I know that many compromises occurred to create this legislation," Handelman said. "Attracting and retaining great teachers is a cornerstone to maintaining and further building great education in our district and statewide."

School officials have been frustrated with the exodus of teachers seeking better-paying positions in other states. Rural school districts have been relying on substitute teachers and non-instructional staff to take over classes due to the inability to attract teachers through competitive salaries.

"I'm excited to know that the Legislature is putting into law an effort to increase teacher salaries," Handelman added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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