REXBURG — On Friday, the president of the Idaho Education Association, Kari Overall, visited Madison Jr. High and spoke with educators about the career ladder, funding cuts and other topics.
“I love the chance to visit educators in schools whenever I can,” Overall said. “I’ve travelled all over the state.”
She says it’s great to see the facilities and teachers and hear their concerns and talk about what needs to be done.
“The career ladder is entering its fifth and final year of being funded,” Kari said. “And when it was originally created, they made three different tiers. So, to move from the beginning tier to the middle tier, educators have to meet certain requirements. And to get to the highest tier, they basically cut the top tier off, and they said, in order to get that salary increase, you have to apply for the master educator premium, which is a three-year portfolio.”
She said that educators are required to put together a portfolio to receive a bonus.
“Rather than just receive salary, they receive this bonus,” Overall said. “In doing so, they got rid of some of the reimbursement for bachelors plus additional credits. They capped it out at a number of credits instead of going higher than the state used to. So, there are many educators without a masters degree, and they see that as a barrier to continue moving.”
Overall reported that several educators across the state do not like the career ladder and would prefer to see it end.
“We know that the state committed to investing $100 million, roughly, for five years,” Overall said. “So, what comes next? Does the state just go back to allocating what they want to add each year depending on how tax receipts look? What is our vision for Idaho and how we pay and compensate educators? We hope that whoever the new governor is, we will be working with them to create another five-year plan for Idaho to say, ‘here’s what’s next; here’s our five-year plan or ten-year plan for how we plan to invest in Idaho schools.’ And, we look forward to working with whoever that is.”
She also talked about the cuts and how school districts are trying to bring teacher salaries back up to par.
“During what was called The Great Recession, Idaho schools took a massive cut,” Overall said. “Most districts, in order to keep teachers, had to freeze them or cut days from their school schedules in order to not actually lay people off.
Some districts did lay teachers off; it kinda depended district by district. But what we saw were massive cuts to the schools across the board. We’re still working to get back to the place that we were prior to those 2008 levels.”
She said that many districts last year got back up to previous levels of discretionary funding for the first time.
“So, the money that districts can use in whatever way they want, the state finally allocated the same amount that it had in 2008, to that level,” Overall said. “What we know is that there are thousands more students in Idaho schools than there were in 2008. So, even though we are back up to that level, we’re educating more children. So, Idaho must continue to invest in our schools and provide adequate compensation and resources so that districts can continue to educate the increasing number of students that we see in our state.”
Overall says that, across the state, districts are uneven in the amount of money they receive and how they are classified.
“It’s very telling to know that districts are compensating educators so unequally.”
Overall said that the state did a general test across the state to identify the bottom five percent of schools. She said that it shouldn’t be about tests but about how many children, educators, nurses and other staff are at the school and about the quality of the facility and educating.
She brought up an example of one school in a rural town in Idaho where the school was classified as part of that bottom five percent. The school had five students and one teacher.
“It shouldn’t matter what district you live in, every district should have equal access to enough money for compensation,” Overall said, “to ensure that teachers are paid in a way that is equitable.”
In regard to the Idaho educator shortage, Overall says that they have noticed that there are several factors to blame such as inadequate pay and a lack of mentoring included.
“There are hundreds of unfilled jobs on the first day of school, across the state,” Overall said. “Districts are hiring people long after the year begins, oftentimes putting uncertified teachers in classrooms with students simply so that there is a warm body there.”
She says that colleges and universities in Idaho do produce enough graduates in the education field to fill every vacant teaching job in the state. However, a large amount of certified educators leave the state for better pay or even go into a different career and leave education behind.
“A large portion of those with a teaching certificate never teach in this state,” Overall said. “We gotta figure out how to keep them here.”
Overall reports that 15 percent of all Idaho teachers leave the profession within their first year of teaching.
“We need to invest more into our early-education teachers,” Overall said. “We believe that, not only should the state mandate that educators are mentored, but it should provide a way for districts to pay all mentors and provide collaboration time for mentors to work with their mentees.”
She says that, right now, it’s up to the district to decide what mentorship programs are carried out.
“While we favor local control, and we know that locals need to be able to decide what’s best for them, there should be some standards for what mentoring should look like,” Overall said. “And districts should have the resources they need to be able to ensure that educators have that.”
She says that the IEA wants to see professional development improved. She says that the IEA offers free professional development to their members because they’ve seen that it helps educators to learn from one another.
“It’s some of the best professional development that they can get,” Overall said. “So, increased opportunities like that from the state as well to ensure that educators can get credits, they can learn, they can grow with one another, will help fill some of that void. We also want to see an investment in our schools and educator salaries.”
Overall said that the state should invest more money and resources for education.
“We know that last year the state gave away a huge tax refund mostly to businesses,” Overall said. “We would like to see that trend reversed, and let’s invest in our schools rather than giving a refund in years that our economy is good.”
Melanie Hammond, region six president and local Rexburg educator, said that the local district worked hard to get back to the pre-2008 pay levels. She says that despite the increase in pay, they’ve had an increase in insurance prices.
Overall commented that it won’t matter if an educator’s pay goes up three percent if their insurance goes up six.
“Rexburg had to pass a levy in order to supplement the amount of money they are getting from the state,” Overall said. “We see that in districts across the state, that they rely on levies to pay for basic programs for students, for educators, and it shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t be a haves and have nots across the state. Every district should be able to have access to resources without having to go to their local tax payers to supplement what’s coming from the state.”
She encourages parents to go to their local legislators and ask for them to vote on what they think schools need. “If they don’t hear from us, they assume everything is fine and that we’re good with the decisions they’re making,” Overall said.