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Otter backs tying teachers’ raises, job security

LEWISTON – Gov. Butch Otter is backing a plan proposed by Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna that would raise some teacher salaries but at the cost of job security.

Otter’s support is key to getting the $59 million teacher pay plan, proposed last week by Luna, approved by lawmakers during the 2008 Legislature.

The plan, which Otter said Thursday he hadn’t read, calls for raises of as much as $15,600 for those who teach in-demand subjects and boost their qualifications, but who also agree to forgo coveted job security that Luna and other Republicans blame for reducing the quality of Idaho education.

Otter said he favors rewarding performance for teachers who don’t have continuing contracts.

“Once you tie it up into the bargaining unit, then you have a tendency to diminish high performance and reward a lot that’s not high performance,” Otter said. “I like the idea of rewarding good performance.”

Luna’s plan would give teachers several options.

In the first track, teachers could keep existing contracts giving them due-process rights like the right to challenge a firing. Those who choose this track would be eligible for as much as $6,000 in pay hikes – on top of base salaries from $31,000 to $49,000 – if their students show growth or proficiency on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

A new track, however, could mean an additional $9,600 for those teachers willing to trade what Luna calls “tenure” for contracts akin to those of school principals, who enjoy fewer job protections.

Added pay in this track would also hinge on teachers getting certified in multiple subjects – versatility coveted in rural schools – and assuming duties like mentoring others.

Some lawmakers are against Luna’s plan, including Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, a retired math teacher.

“There’s not another state that has a system where they tie continuing contracts to their system of pay,” she said, adding she also objected to making teachers give up due process rights. “This is America. We all deserve due process.”

She said teachers in Idaho will likely not be quiet when the Legislature starts.

“I think this is something the teachers will be very, very worked up about,” Ringo said.

Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, who is House majority caucus chairman, backs Luna’s plan.

“When you move to the other system (Luna’s proposal) … you’re taking kind of a shield away from a very few lower-performing teachers in the state of Idaho,” he said. “It’s a good deal for professional teachers in this state.”

Idaho has more than 14,500 public school teachers. The Idaho Education Association, the statewide teachers union, has about 13,000 members. Luna forecast that as many as 40 percent of teachers could opt for the new employment track in its first year.


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