Delaware’s General Assembly will have its first public look and discussion about proposed educator pay raise recommendations next week.
At 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, the House and Senate education committees will come together to listen to a presentation on the final report from the Public Education Compensation Committee. Watch the meeting here.
The 15-person compensation committee – made of school leaders, educators, government officials and financial experts – has spent the past year evaluating the pay scales for the state’s various educator groups.
It recommended raises that will total hundreds of millions in the next four years, if enacted as suggested.
Those groups include teachers, custodians, nurses, bus drivers, administrators, secretaries, information technology workers, paraprofessionals and food service workers.
The purpose of the committee is to make Delaware regionally competitive in order to strengthen its educator pipeline and ensure the recruitment and retention of school employees.
Added pressure came notably from neighboring Maryland, which passed a law that would bump teachers’ starting salaries to $60,000 by 2026.
Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, who is on the Senate Education Committee, said one of his concerns about the raise recommendations stems from that fact.
“The challenge with the committee’s findings is that it chases a fictional starting salary number of $60,000 a year that was generated by neighboring states whose revenue comes from higher taxation of its citizens and a sales tax,” Buckson said.
A spike in taxes is something Delaware has stayed away from, he said.
“My concern is the only way to meet the recommendations will be to ask for more money from the middle class,” he said. “That’s a real challenge in a budget year where inflation and other economic challenges are impacting everyday Delawareans.”
Hefty salary raises proposed by the committee are going to the legislature at a time when the state isn’t raking in the same massive surpluses it has in recent years.
The effect of the raises on the state budget came up several times in compensation committee discussions.
Members like Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin, who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee, has said the job of working recommendations lies within the Joint Finance Committee, while the job of the compensation committee is strictly to make recommendations on educator salaries to make the state more competitive.
Others, such as compensation committee member Cerron Cade, who is the director of the Office of Management and Budget, argues that the recommendations are essentially pointless if they are not realistic for the state to achieve and work into the budget.
Here’s what the committee recommended for each employee group:
- 1305 – teachers and professional staff: a 2% increase plus a $1,875 stipend (state cost = $212,658,997 over next four fiscal years).
- 1308 – secretaries: a 2+ increase plus a $500 stipend and condensing the scale from five positions to three (state cost = $1,407,799 for fiscal year 2025).
- 1311 – custodians: a 2% increase, stipends ranging from $439 to $1,105 and condensing the scale from six to four positions (state cost = $2,472,787 for fiscal year 2025).
- 1322 – food service: a 2.5% increase (state cost = $1,771,234 for fiscal year 2025).
- 1324 – paraprofessionals: a 1% increase and stipends ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 (state cost = $3,096,586 for fiscal year 2025).
- Bus drivers: Increase hourly wages from $22.50 per hour to $25 (state cost = $4,847,348).
- IT employees: created funding units for workers (state cost = $6,926,517 for fiscal year 2025).
The committee has already submitted its report to Gov. John Carney’s office.
The legislature can accept some, all or none of the recommendations.
Theoretically, it could prioritize one group over others.
However, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, who is a member of both the compensation committee, the Senate Education Committee and the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Committee, doesn’t foresee the state doing that.
“I don’t think they would be able to get away with that,” he said.
He pointed to the various groups represented and advocated for by the Delaware State Education Association, the designated union for approximately 12,000 teachers and other public school employees in Delaware.
Delaware’s educators and school support staff must be paid appropriately based on the important roles they play in educating future generations, Pettyjohn said.
“Each of them have a vital role to play in ensuring an environment that is conducive to effective learning, and choosing one side over another to be fairly compensated for the work they do should not be something that we are promoting by our work in the General Assembly,” he said.
The national teacher shortage has been a hot topic in the state and across the country for well over a year, so it’s likely teachers will be at the forefront of discussion.
“The understanding from my districts and others throughout the state is there’s still a recruitment and retention challenge when competing with neighboring jurisdictions,” said Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Middletown, who is a member of the House Education Committee.
He said the state needs to keep a close eye on the issue of attracting educators, but it needs to be fiscally responsible and not sacrifice other programs that need necessary funding.
“We need to be prudent,” he said. “We need to be prudent with the money and designate them in the most effective way possible, to help the greatest number of Delawareans.”
Achieving that is complicated.
Hensley said the legislature will need to digest the recommendation report in the context of Carney’s recommended budget, which is expected in the next couple weeks.
“We’ll need to look at what his initiatives are, and balance it as we do every year on the Joint Finance Committee with items that we feel are important in order to make the most effective use of money,” Hensley said.
He’s sure this will be an ongoing process, and says he can’t imagine anybody on the two education committees believes it will be a one-and-done meeting to solve the issues.
“It’s going to be an ongoing dialogue,” he said, “but it’s important to have the dialogue.”
Pettyjohn said it will be interesting to see how these extremely important initiatives will be funded, especially considering other projects that are being proposed and passed through the appropriations committees that have hefty price tags.
Delaware is expected to have to put more money into health insurance for its workers, as well into Medicaid as costs rise in healthcare. Bills now filed in the General Assembly include making free lunches available to all students at a cost of $31.5 million in 2024 up to $35 million in 2026, as well as a bill requiring permits to buy a handgun at a cost of $16 million over the next three years.
“The finance committee will have to take a close look at what the true priorities of this General Assembly and the administration are going to be, and fund those initiatives,” Pettyjohn said. “This is not a time where we can burden families and small businesses with an increased tax load, as so many of them are struggling to make ends meet in the current economy.”
Cade said in a statement Wednesday that the office is still in the process of finalizing the Governor’s recommended operating budget for next year.
“As part of this process, we are balancing many competing funding priorities such as recommendations from the Public Education Compensation Committee, Medicaid cost increases, Group Health Insurance Increases, and fully funding legislation that was passed last year,” he said. “We look forward to the governor’s budget release in a few weeks where he will unveil his priorities.”
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Sturgeon and Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton and chair of the House Education Committee, for this article.
How the committee got to this point:
OCTOBER ‘22: State teachers’ union asks for base pay hike
SEPTEMBER ‘23: Suggestions for educator raises finalized by pay panel
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Share this Post