Idaho teacher raises likely will fall short of amount passed by Legislature. Here’s why

This story originally published June 1, 2023, at Idaho EdNews.

At first, it seemed like all Idaho teachers would be getting a $6,359 raise next school year.

That’s the amount legislators set aside for teacher raises, ringing up to a total of $145 million.

Politicians from senators to the state superintendent touted the raises, and they urged district leaders to pass the funds directly to teachers.

“I hope our administrators and our school board members who are going to be at the negotiating table hear this loud and clear: It better get to every single teacher,” Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said during this year’s legislative session.

“The last thing we want to hear are teachers who say, ‘We never got any of the raises we were supposed to get,’ ” Superintendent Debbie Critchfield told EdNews in April. “We don’t want that.”

And most Idaho teachers should be getting raises — but many will not end up seeing the full $6,359 in their pocketbooks.

That’s because, at the local level, doling out that state cash is not as straightforward as it seems. For example, teachers in Coeur d’Alene will get $6,359 raises. But in Pocatello raises will likely be $5,000 and in West Ada $4,965. (More details on contract negotiations in these three districts are below).

District leaders are making difficult budget decisions because of “the chronic underfunding of education that we have at the state level,” said Mike Journee, a spokesman for the Idaho Education Association.

The large school funding requests districts made of taxpayers in the March and May elections (more than $1 billion and more than $734 million respectively) demonstrated that the state is not funding school districts as well as it should, Journee said. “And we think that’s wrong. The state needs to live up to its constitutional obligation to properly fund public education.”

But Journee said teachers appreciated that Gov. Brad Little and Critchfield have been “aggressively pursuing pay raises for educators.”

“That was a very important moment for our members,” he said. “It provided some validation and a perspective that they’re valued for what they do.”

Yet, the next time a teacher raise makes headlines, educators should wait to see how much of those funds actually makes it into their paycheck before celebrating, said Quinn Perry, the policy and government affairs director for the Idaho School Boards Association.

“Don’t go out and buy washers and dryers and appliances and commit money until you actually see how it plays out at the negotiation table.”

Those negotiations are taking place right now, or have recently concluded. In many cases, the teacher raises have turned out to be less than advertised. Here’s why, according to education leaders:

Federal vs. state teachers: The pay raises are only for state-funded teachers. That means federally funded teachers, like many special education teachers, wouldn’t get the same raise unless the district covered it. The bottom line: The district would be on the hook to make up the gap between the funds the state gives and the funds it needs to give all teachers $6,359.

Districts hire more teachers than the state allotted for: Legislators issued raises according to the number of teachers the state determines a district needs, rather than the actual number of teachers in each district. Salaries for those teachers fall onto the district and/or taxpayers — as would any raises. The bottom line: The district would be on the hook to make up the gap between the funds the state gives and the funds it needs to give all teachers $6,359.

Districts paying teachers more than the state allotted for: The state also has a formula it uses to determine teacher pay. However, many districts fund teachers beyond that amount. The extra salary boost is often paid for via supplemental levies — and that could make leaders reluctant to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for another raise. Or, districts might want to use the legislative salary funds to reduce the burden on taxpayers. The bottom line: Districts that hire more teachers and provide higher salaries than the state allocates face more obstacles in providing all teachers with the $6,359 raise — because more has to come out of their own funds/from local taxpayers.

Attendance impacting school funding: Some district leaders are worried that they will lose state funding due to a return to attendance-based funding for the 2023-24 school year. The bottom line: The reversion could mean that some districts will see less state money next school year (only time will tell), so they are making fiscally conservative choices now.

Election losses: Some districts are operating on tight budgets after school funding election losses. The bottom line: Districts may not be able to make up the gap after what the state provides without supplemental levy dollars.

Concerns over long-term sustainability: If districts put the pay increases into the career ladder (a contractual, long-term plan that lays out gradual pay increases over a teacher’s career), they are essentially cemented into providing that raise or more every year for perpetuity (or face backlash from teachers who don’t want a pay decrease) — even though the Legislature may or may not continue to set aside money for raises. The bottom line: A fear that pay increases aren’t sustainable long term may make some district leaders opt for one-time bonuses rather than set-in-stone raises.

In West Ada, teacher raises less than expected

In the West Ada School District — the state’s largest — nearly all of the above hiccups are impacting teacher raises.

The district employs more than 150 certified teachers out of its own budget (rather than from state allocations). And not all of its teachers are state funded — some salaries are federally funded and others come from ERI (early reading intervention) money.

Plus, the district pays teachers “far above and beyond” the state’s salary determinations, according to negotiation minutes.

It all comes down to this: giving all West Ada teachers $6,359 more next year would cost $21 million — and the district would have to pony up $14 million of that, according to the minutes.

On top of that, the return to attendance-based funding means the district could lose an estimated $10 million (though it’s too soon to say for sure). And then there’s the district’s recent $500 million plant facilities levy loss.

“The levy failing affects everything we do,” the minutes read.

Ultimately, the district and local teachers’ union agreed to a raise of about $4,965 per teacher — so “significant … just not what was advertised,” said Zach Borman, the West Ada Education Association’s president.

Still, it’ll be the biggest one-time raise Borman has seen in the district. And union members green-lighted the agreement with a near-unanimous 97% approval — as compared to about 80% last spring.

Borman said he has been fielding angry text messages from teachers who don’t understand why they’re not getting the $6,359 they saw in the news and heard about from politicians.

And the explanation is convoluted, but Borman said the district has done its best given the circumstances.

District leaders were “trying to do their best to ensure that teachers saw a good pay raise,” but state-level issues “that are entirely out of the district’s control did not allow for that headline dollar amount to be negotiated this particular year.”

In Coeur d’Alene, levy helps get full $6,359 pay increase

Instead of having to lay off teachers and close elementary schools, Coeur d’Alene is giving raises to its staff next school year.

Last month voters approved the district’s two-year, $50 million supplemental levy request. The district’s operating budget relies on the levy to cover 25% of its operating budget.

Rebecca Smith, chair of the school board, said: “We are also extremely grateful to everyone who gave their time and talent to encourage people to vote on May 16. Without the support of our community, we would not be able to provide the salary increases we approved today.”

Superintendent Shon Hocker added: “The past year has been a challenging one for all of us. We also express our gratitude to Gov. Little and the Legislature for the increased funding to provide competitive pay for our teachers.”

The state’s additional funding for raises is not enough to cover raises for all certificated staff, because the district employs more teachers than the state dictates, to achieve smaller class sizes. However, all teachers will receive the $6,359 salary increase by using dedicated funds from the state and funding from the supplemental levy, a district spokesperson said.

On Wednesday, the school board and education association unanimously agreed to a new salary package.

  • Removal of all “dead zones” where staff were ineligible for raises despite their years of service or credit attainment.

  • A $6,359 pay increase for all certificated staff.

  • One year of funding for select hard-to-fill positions.

  • The district will maintain the current Blue Cross “driver” and “buy-up” insurance plans with the same coverages and deductibles, and will maintain a medical insurance contribution of 68% and a district contribution of $1,230.03.

  • An increased minimum starting wage for all classified employees from $12.75 per hour to $16 per hour.

  • A $6,359 pay increase for all district administrative staff.

“We must all work together to be successful,” said Scott Traverse, a teacher and negotiating team member. “And the unified outcome of our negotiations this year demonstrates we can have different opinions and still work together effectively to achieve a shared desired outcome.”

In Pocatello, teachers will likely see a $5,000 raise

Pocatello-Chubbuck school district teachers will likely see pay bumps of $5,000 next year.

The district and the local union tentatively agreed to the pay raise, though the contract is awaiting board approval before it’s finalized.

Mary Anne McGrory, the Pocatello Education Association president, said the full $6,359 figure was not doable because Pocatello-Chubbuck hires more teachers than the state allots, and because of concerns about the switch to attendance-based funding.

“Every district is very worried about what that’s going to do to funding and until we (have a better idea) … the district was hesitant to put forth any more money,” she said.

McGrory said she was “extremely pleased” with the $5,000 raises on the table and members seem to be as well — they unanimously ratified the contract Wednesday.