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BLOOMINGTON — A state mandate that would increase starting teacher salaries to $40,000 a year waits Gov. Bruce Rauner's approval, but area school superintendents say it will take more than a raise to attract good teachers to Illinois — and keep them here.

If approved, the mandate would require minimum, full-time teacher salaries to increase incrementally over the next five years, hitting the $40,000 mark for the 2022-23 school year.

Proponents of the bill (SB 2892) say the measure is a way to combat a growing teacher shortage in the state.

But Guy Gradert, superintendent of Ridgeview schools in Colfax, said the requirement is “too high for most downstate districts.”

Ridgeview schools will start new teachers with a bachelor's degree at $36,863 for the upcoming school year. 

“I don’t know if boosting the minimum salary fixes the problem (of teacher shortages),” said Gradert. “Pay is important, but part of it is that society’s view of the school house has changed. We expect so much more out of our teachers now.”

At Bloomington’s District 87, the base teacher salary for 2018-19 is already set at $39,203, said Superintendent Barry Reilly.

“We’ll have three years from that point to get to $40,000. That’s realistic, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for the state to mandate these salaries. I think they have good intentions, but there’s limitations in terms of revenues that come in to cover additional costs,” he said.

At McLean County Unit 5 schools, the starting salary for a teacher in 2018-19 will be $37,000.

Lindsey Dickinson, president of the Unit Five Education Association, said the new state funding formula for schools “is a step in the right direction.”

Teachers and educators are consistently asked to do more with less. A starting salary of $40,000 will help recognize the outstanding work our members do for students,” said Dickinson in an email.

She said phasing in a new minimum salary would “attract quality professionals to education.”

The unfunded mandate would require districts to pull money from other revenue sources, said Gradert.

“It means the (district) budget would require tweaking. It depends on if legislators put enough money in the funding formula to offset costs for taxpayers,” he said.

Reilly said he was concerned about wording in the bill that would require future raises measured by the Consumer Price Index, compounded with local union bargaining.

He agreed that many local districts are seeing impacts of the state teacher shortage.

“As the pool shrinks, it will become a national crisis. It’s not so much about the salaries, it’s about the profession itself and how it’s treated across the country,” said Reilly.

“Every time there’s a mandate from the state, schools have to come up with the money. You either have to cut or find it elsewhere. 'Elsewhere' for most of us is through taxes and fees. For school districts who are already bare-boned, it’s difficult because cuts really hurt,” he said.

Wise said setting teacher salaries should remain local.

“Teachers are underpaid, but Springfield needs to stop trying to mandate and control everything with a one-size-fits-all plan. Let local boards of education make decisions on those things,” said Wise.

Curt Nettles, superintendent of Clinton schools, said the proposal "prioritizes taking care of high quality teachers." 

Beginning Clinton teachers will start at $36,150 this fall.

"I don't think beginning teachers make enough with the workload they're taking on, but mandating that from the state level on local entities is a bit of a reach," said Nettles.

Contact Julia Evelsizer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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