Low salaries in Idaho are making it tougher for school districts to retain experienced teachers, especially in places like Coeur d’Alene.
And it could get worse because of the soaring cost of homes in Kootenai County.
A report released Monday by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy found that teacher salaries in the state lag behind most of its neighbors, especially Washington.
According to the report, Idaho’s average teacher salary was around $53,000.
Only two states in the region had lower pay, Utah at just more than $52,800 and Montana, where the pay came in at just more than $52,000.
The state with the highest average salary was Washington, at nearly $73,000.
That’s tough competition for Coeur d’Alene Schools, which pays slightly more than most other Idaho districts but suffers because pay is much higher across the state line.
“Our district does pay above the Idaho state average, particularly in the middle and upper levels of the certified pay scale,” said Scott Maben, director of communications for Coeur d’Alene Schools.
“That helps us in recruiting and retaining staff,” Maben said. “Although we do lose some teachers to better paying jobs, we also have seen some schools that have low turnover rates with teachers choosing to spend their entire careers there.”
That’s the tricky part: getting them to stay.
Coeur d’Alene also offers competitive salaries for new teachers – an average of about $40,000 annually compared with $45,000 in Spokane.
However, the gap widens significantly once teachers gain experience.
“From year 6 to 14 of a teacher’s career is where we are really vulnerable, when the gap is a little larger,” said Eric Davis, human resources director for the Coeur d’Alene district.
Idaho teacher pay remains lower than the inflation-adjusted levels seen before the Great Recession, when revenue losses resulted in significant pay cuts. The average teacher salary fell from about $55,000 in 2009 to less than $53,000 in 2019 (in inflation-adjusted dollars).
Salaries in Washington, Oregon and Wyoming grew by an average of 12% between the 2009-2010 and 2019-2020 school years. Meanwhile, Idaho’s salaries fell by 2% in the same time period.
Despite these broader trends, Idaho’s entry-level teachers have seen some improvements in pay. During the past few years, Idaho lawmakers have implemented the Teacher Career Ladder, a new pay scale for teachers that increased entry-level (or first-rung) salaries from $31,000 to $40,369.
Idaho schools also are losing classified staff, which makes it difficult to keep schools running. In the past decade, more than 20% of classified staff members have left their positions annually and retention of classified staff has averaged less than 79%.
These staff losses became especially problematic during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Teachers are frontline workers charged with the critical job of addressing the impacts of learning loss from the pandemic,” said Kirsten Pochop, policy analyst with the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.
“Policymakers would be wise to make the continued investments needed to ensure kids can succeed and our state has the workforce needed to keep our businesses strong and power our recovery from the recession.”
Despite the salary gap, many teachers in Coeur d’Alene opt to stay because Idaho has one of the best public pension programs in the nation, and because North Idaho is a desirable place to live.
However, rising housing costs in Kootenai County are hurting the job market.
Davis said that this summer, several teachers accepted entry-level positions, then backed out “because they felt they couldn’t afford to live in Coeur d’Alene.”