Idaho's merit pay mess: Pay the teachers their bonuses

Here's a draft of our Sunday editorial.

In any profession, the goals for merit pay are straightforward.

To reward top performers. To — in the clunky jargon of human resources — incentivize extra effort and initiative. To motivate improved job performance.

So far, teacher merit pay isn’t off to a very good start in Idaho, unless the motivational goals are confusion and skepticism.

The merit pay mess began unraveling early in September, when the state Department of Education suggested the bonuses may hinge on the result of Proposition 2 — a statewide voter referendum to uphold or reject the merit-pay law.

With bonuses due to go out to districts on Nov. 15, nine days after the election, the department said the money may hang in the balance of the election.

That’s where things stood for a couple of weeks, with Idaho Education Association president Penni Cyr accusing state superintendent Tom Luna’s shop of holding the money “hostage.”

Then, along came Secretary of State Ben Ysursa — one of Luna’s political allies, but also the go-to source on all things Idaho elections. As Ysursa explained to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the state’s Board of Canvassers won’t meet to validate the election results until Nov. 21, so he says the merit pay law will be in effect on Nov. 15, no matter how the referendum goes.

Luna isn’t convinced, since the districts have until Dec. 15 to distribute the money to teachers. So he has asked the attorney general’s office for an opinion.

Teachers — not the leaders of the teachers’ union, but the rank-and-file educators who work in the classrooms — have every right to feel jerked around.

And aren’t these the very people that the merit pay plan is supposed to reward and motivate?

Shouldn’t teachers — regardless of their opinions about Luna and his three-pronged Students Come First education overhaul — at least be able to feel like bonuses are a gesture of appreciation for a hard job done well?

These teachers earned this money. Under the merit-pay law — passed by the 2011 Legislature and funded, to the tune of $39 million, by the 2012 Legislature — they have this money coming. But this clumsy rollout is no way to build buy-in at the classroom level.

Luna says the IEA has put the bonuses in limbo by pushing for the referenda. But he and his department deserve a big share of the blame for this confusion.

The merit-pay plan was signed into law on March 17, 2011. By May 2011, opponents had gathered more than enough signatures to challenge the laws on the statewide ballot. This challenge didn't creep up on Luna; as a result, said spokeswoman Melissa McGrath, he was aware of the bonus issue in 2011, and discussed it with districts after the 2012 session. There was ample time to untangle this mess -- before election season.

Even as Luna has publicly — and bitterly — done battle with the IEA over his education laws, the superintendent has taken pains to say his battle is not with the teachers. In a recent statement, Luna said, “I will find any way legally possible to distribute this money to Idaho’s teachers, not just this year but every year.” His 2013-14 budget request includes $61.1 million to expand the merit-pay program.

But that’s next year. In the meantime, an estimated 85 percent of Idaho teachers are in line for bonuses this year, averaging $2,000. Luna has been willing to act boldly before: His Students Come First push was nothing less than a brazen attempt to remake K-12 in a single legislative session.

So why so timid, now, Superinterindent? Be bold again, and be public about it. Commit to awarding these bonuses on Nov. 15. Make someone tell you you can’t.

Put the state’s money where your mouth is. After all, you pushed for it in the first place.

who is confused & making the confusion

KR types this:
Luna said, “I will find any way legally possible to distribute this money to Idaho’s teachers, not just this year but every year.”

Then types:
"So why so timid, now, Superinterindent? Be bold again, and be public about it. Commit to awarding these bonuses on Nov. 15."

KR, do you want him to say it in a daily press release?

Do you suppose

That KR is moonlighting as a teacher or teachers union flack? Or is he just dense as basalt?

Do you have a problem with teachers



you have a problem?

Not with teachers


Know the Statesman's wide stance...

The Statesman has already "come out" opposing the SCF laws.

Once you realize that, everything else makes sense....such as:

"Of the 1,884 teachers who left the profession during the 2011-2012 school year, 957 year cited "personal reasons." Another 127 were fired while 143 of the teachers were laid off."

Read more here:

Take a second to add up the totals (957 + 127 + 143) = 1227 and you will see there's a discrepancy (1884 - 1227) of 657 teachers.

Either someone didn't do their homework (pun intended) or they're inflating the numbers in an attempt to sway public opinion.

Vote Yes on Props 1, 2 & 3!!!

Luna really has the teachers' backs.

It's clear he wants to support the teachers as much as possible. All of those laws just scream, "support your teachers." They don't try to outsource education to Conservative online education companies. They don't take away from districts' ability to keep teachers and force them to almost but not quite buy laptops because the state doesn't have its tech contracts figured out yet. They certainly don't make it easier for local big-wigs in small towns to get teachers who aren't their political or religious persuasion fired. Nope. That's all fantasy created by union thugs. Trust Luna, he's there to make things better.

Luna has the teachers backs like Brutus had Caesar's



Something I've been wondering and can't find the answer. What percentage of Idaho teachers are union members?

Why not ask a much more interesting question?

What is the percentage of teachers in he union in Boise compared to the state average?
Then you can hear the long line of nonsense about how Boise does not pay teacher union dues.

an even more interesting question...

What are student scores and programs like in Boise?

Oh yeah, I remember---- REALLY REALLY GOOD.

Hmmm... high union membership, highly successful schools. Go figure.

IEA membership numbers are a secret

"The statewide association has represented about 13,000 members in recent years. Communication Director Julie Fanselow wouldn’t say how far that number has dropped, but said most local chapters are within 5 percent of their membership from a year ago." - Associated Press article 1-24-2012.


Let's be honest here. Luna has very astutely designed in an effective guarantee for his proposals. He is basically bribing the teachers for their support of the laws. If they fail, the teachers loose their potential bonuses. Nicely done Tom.

Re: rewarding ingratitude

Here's what is really confusing: teachers wanting to receive merit pay while at the same time wanting voters to vote against the law that gave them the merit pay. It's as if they want to be paid a bonus for their ingratitude. Now that's what I call brazen.

Money stolen from teachers

What is interesting, the money that will be funding these bonuses came from funds that Luna stole from teachers through freezing their annual merit increase. So in essence, the state took away their money and then told them that if they are exceptional teachers, they will be given some of the money back. How is this ethical? Put yourself in the shoes of the teachers. Would you be upset?

Luna needs to be taught a lesson! Vote NO on the Referendum come November.

Entitlement mentality alert!

Duh...that money is the taxpayers' It doesn't belong to the teachers in the first place.

But, to those that participate in union thuggery, it appears they lost their "entitlement" when that was never the case at all.

Vote Yes on Props 1, 2 & 3!!!

Right, reward these...

prima donna's while they work against the good Luna laws. Vote yes on the Luna laws. PS...what reason has Kevin given for not endorsing a Presidential candidate? Seems like it's because Kevin and the editorial board don't want to endorse a Mormon.

expectations of teachers vs reality

45 minute periods with 1 teacher and 27 to 31 students: Teacher spends the first 15 minutes of class taking roll and briefly presenting the day's material. Then it's time for a quick 5 minutes of question and answer period to clarify the material before the assignment begins. That leaves 25 minutes to complete the assignment and less than half a minute for each student to receive individual time with the teacher for further instruction if needed.

The students have to be at least average and hopefully above their peers to have absorbed the limited instruction with so little help. The teacher has to be a miracle worker to provide that education to that many students with so little time. AND then hope he or she meets lunatic Luna's requirements to keep their job and receive some sort of bonus.

Support Education in Idaho. Say Yes to Students and Teachers. Vote NO on Proposition 3.

Union members can always refuse to accept the SCF bonuses..

But you and I both know they'll take that money (read that as taxpayer appreciation) even as they oppose the laws that made the bonuses possible.

You can't make this stuff up! A union that was for PFP bonuses, then against them, and now demands the bonuses even as they claim it provides no incentive whatsoever.

Really, you cannot make this stuff up!!!

Vote Yes on Props 1, 2 & 3!!!

I talked to a teacher today

who's been working six years, and makes less now than when she started. She does it because she loves the job, but says teachers are getting tired. They spend their furlough days still in school because there's so much work.

Document your rediculous claim

No name is necessary, just ID the school district, the years and gross salary per year.

That sounds a little fishy,

That sounds a little fishy, Fisher.

down trend

I know LOTS of people making less than what they were making six years.

Do you think teachers should be different than the rest of us?
They think so.

my 'rediculous' claim

She works in the Kuna school district, which has one of the lowest per-pupil costs in the state of Idaho and the lowest salaries in the Treasure Valley. She didn't specify the years, but 2012 minus 6 years would be 2006. And no, I didn't ask her how much money she made.


Kuna salary schedule for teacher in 6th year, bachelor only - $31,166.

Boise salary schedule for teacher in the 6th year,bachelor only is $34,790.

$3,624 difference for teaching in Kuna vs Boise.
Shall we compare the average home price in Kuna vs Boise?

We could say the same about police, sanitation workers, janitors, etc. If you were a real estate agent would you make more money selling in Kuna or Boise? Are you working harder and more hours selling short sales homes now than selling regular homes 6 years ago?


is closer to $3500


Correct. Thanks.
I went to school in a rich school district paying lots of taxes for well-paid teachers, fancy buildings and lots of administrators. Still can't add and substract though.