Idaho task force eyes teacher salaries

MOSCOW — Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” education task force talked teacher salaries and retention at its meeting on the University of Idaho’s campus earlier this week.

In September, each of the task force’s four subcommittees finalized recommendations for improving Idaho’s K-12 education system. When the group met Tuesday at Moscow, it was an opportunity to publicly discuss and begin to prioritize those key recommendations.

A recommendation to increase minimum pay for veteran teachers in the state, including the addition of a “third rung” with a base salary of $60,000, generated some of the most robust discussion of the day.

Greg Wilson, Little’s education liaison, said increasing state allocations for salary schedules will help smaller, rural districts retain experienced instructors by allowing them to have more competitive salaries. He said those districts often rely on annual levies to support teacher raises. In districts like Moscow, such raises may keep teachers from fleeing across state lines for better pay.

“Across the state, I think it’s hard to argue that this wouldn’t help local leaders be able to retain more veteran educators,” Wilson said.

Other board members noted that making teacher pay more competitive in Idaho won’t just help with retention, but may strengthen the pipeline of would-be teachers in the state. Committee members agreed raises would have to be rolled out over a number of years.

Members of the task force also discussed recommendations for rural and underserved schools, putting particular emphasis on a suggestion to increase optional all-day kindergarten opportunities in the state.

All-day kindergarten would help lower-income families access child care and also prepare children for future instruction, committee members said. More children attending kindergarten in Idaho means a larger number of students will begin the first grade with a head start on skills like self-regulation and language acquisition.

The move also would help with Idaho’s K-3 literacy goals. Superintendent Ryan Cantrell of the Bruneau-Grand View School District in southern Idaho said since his district started offering all-day kindergarten, student scores on the Idaho Reader Indicator test have gotten progressively better each year.

“Last year, we reached the 100 percent proficient mark with our kindergarteners and it was just an awesome accomplishment,” Cantrell said. “That parlays into first grade, which was 88 (percent) proficient, which is also another amazing mark for us. I can tell you that neither of those would have been possible without all-day kindergarten.”

Other recommendations discussed Tuesday included incentivising collaboration and career-technical education access in rural districts; standardizing statewide protocols and vocabulary for school security operations; and strengthening social-emotional support for students.

Tuesday’s meeting was led by task force co-chairs Debbie Critchfield, president of the State Board of Education, and Boise businessman Bill Gilbert.

Gilbert said committee members will consider comments made in Tuesday’s discussion with an aim toward finalizing a list of prioritized goals in their Nov. 4 meeting.

Little assembled the task force in May to formulate a five-year blueprint for improvement of, and investment in, Idaho’s K-12 public education system. The task force members include teachers, administrators, education stakeholders, business leaders and legislators from across Idaho.

Local members of the task force include Jennifer Parkins, a trustee for the Genesee Joint School District and president of the Idaho School Board Association, and Matt Van Vleet, director of government affairs at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Lewiston.