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Idaho schools chief makes pitch to lawmakers to stick with plan to boost teacher pay, earns high marks

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 26, 2017, 10:32 p.m.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra speaks to reporters Tuesday during a media conference  in Boise, Idaho. Wilder School Superintendent Jeff Dillon was the first to file to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018. Ybarra has announced she will seek re-election. (Kimberlee Kruesi / Associated Press)
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra speaks to reporters Tuesday during a media conference in Boise, Idaho. Wilder School Superintendent Jeff Dillon was the first to file to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018. Ybarra has announced she will seek re-election. (Kimberlee Kruesi / Associated Press)

BOISE – Idaho state school Superintendent Sherri Ybarra told lawmakers Thursday that funding the third year of Idaho’s five-year plan to improve teacher pay is imperative, “not only to attract new teachers into the profession, but also to provide an incentive for our great Idaho teachers to remain in the classroom.”

Next year’s piece of the state’s new teacher career ladder is the priciest one. Originally estimated at $58 million, it’s now up to $62 million thanks to higher than expected student enrollments this year that pushed up next year’s projections by roughly 100 classrooms full of kids. That’s the largest single piece of the $104 million-plus increase Ybarra’s requesting for the schools next year.

“This is such important work,” Ybarra told the Legislature’s joint budget committee. She said her budget proposals will bring the state a strong return on investment.

Lawmakers gave the third-year superintendent generally high marks for her detail-packed, fast-paced budget presentation, which was a marked contrast from her first year in office, when her truncated presentation left lawmakers scratching their heads.

Ybarra requested a 6.6 percent increase in state general funds for public schools next year, at $1.679 billion, up from this year’s $1.574 billion. Those figures don’t include educational services for the deaf and blind, a separate agency for which Ybarra doesn’t develop the budget, but which is generally lumped in with the public school budget for accounting purposes. Counting the deaf and blind services, Ybarra’s request shows a 6.7 percent increase in state general funds, while Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation is for a 6.4 percent increase.

Educational services for the deaf and blind have two major budget requests for next year that Otter’s recommending funding: Raising teacher pay to match career ladder increases in public schools and help attract teachers certified to teach children who are deaf or blind; and adding two administrators.

A key difference between Ybarra’s budget proposal and Otter’s is that the governor is recommending $5 million in the state Board of Education’s budget – not in the school budget – for improving teacher evaluations and the performance of school principals, while Ybarra said her $300,000 request would cover that need and her department’s efforts in those areas already are underway.

Otter also is recommending a $10 million increase in classroom technology funding, while Ybarra’s requesting $8 million. And Otter is not recommending funding for several of Ybarra’s line items, including another $2 million for early literacy; a $1.1 million increase for students with limited English proficiency; additional raises for classified staffers like janitors and cafeteria workers; and a $1.7 million boost to math instruction.

Ybarra made a strong pitch to lawmakers that her office should be in charge of teacher evaluations and training of principals, saying she’s the “constitutional officer with the direct supervision responsibility.” The evaluations are key to the new teacher career ladder plan, as teachers would move up in the ladder based on their evaluations.


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