BOISE , Idaho — Educators petitioned Idaho's lawmakers Friday to boost their wages and pour more state money into the public school system.
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter didn't recommend raises at the beginning of the current legislative session, despite a task force's recommendation that a pay increase was needed to keep workers from heading to states that would pay them better.
Teachers, superintendents and school district employees turned out in force Friday at the Statehouse to ask the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to back them anyway. They attended a hearing meant to allow the public to testify on their budget priorities before lawmakers begin setting spending plans for the fiscal year starting July 1.
"I urge you to go against the governor's proposal of excluding teachers from pay raises while other public employees receive an increase in their wages," said Sam Perez, a teacher from the Meridian School District west of Boise, the state's largest.
The educators may get their wish: Sen. Dean Cameron, the budget committee's head, has vowed to go to bat for teacher pay after approving a 2 percent raise for 17,000 state workers next year.
State schools chief Tom Luna is seeking $23 million to boost teacher pay.
On Friday, Earline Worthley, a retired teacher, also traveled from the western Idaho river town of Weiser to tell the committee to boost public school funding. Worthley said new teachers in Idaho often jump ship to other career tracks or other states where they may be paid more.
Full-time Idaho educators earn an average salary of $43,000 per year, ranking Idaho fifth-lowest among its six neighboring states, according 2013 survey commissioned by Idaho lawmakers.
By contrast, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers in oil-rich Wyoming just across Idaho's eastern border were paid on average $57,805 — back in 2010.
Increasing money to education would not only help Idaho retain its workforce, it would also send a powerful message, Worthley said.
"We need to show the teachers of Idaho that they are respected," she said. "They do not feel respected by the Legislature and the way things have been handled over the last few years."
Cameron, R-Rupert and chairman of the Joint Finace-Appropriations Committee, has said he and other members of the panel have pledged to try to give public school teachers the same level of raises as are now going to state employees: 2 percent.
The Division of Financial Management will consider lawmakers' proposals for raises, even though the governor didn't put them into his executive budget, Otter's budget chief Jani Revier said.