Public Schools Budget

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The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee at the Idaho Legislature, today hit the biggie on its agenda: setting the budget for public schools.

Prior to today's meeting, the committee spent considerable time with stakeholders including the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, the Idaho Education Association, and the chairs of the education committees.

The budget setting began with a motion for a 6.5 percent cut in administrative salary and benefits to make up for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding which will be removed at the end of the year.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum, spoke up against the motion.

"I have a problem with this motion, and I’ll explain why. Our administrators today, they are basically the educative leaders of the school. We gave a reduction last year, and we’re giving a 6.5 percent reduction this year. We haven’t seen a really detailed critique of the superintendent’s numbers."

Co-chair of JFAC, Rep. Maxine Bell, the originator of the motion, said:

"“This motion has nothing to do with the value of an administrator. It’s all about the economy. The economy is the driving factor in this. The cuts in this budget reflect that. It’s not about the value, or the worth, of one position or another.”

The motion passed on a 15-4 vote.

Sen. Hammond motioned to approve JFAC's proposed budget in regards to teacher salary and benefits. The proposal included a 4 percent base reduction for teachers, reduced money allocated for the Gifted and Talented Teacher training program, and eliminated the line item for school supplies, $350 per teacher.

Rep. Cliff Bayer offered a substitute motion, suggesting a different allocation of discretionary dollars, in an effort to preserve teacher salaries above the $30,000 threshold.

"This is not to speak directly against the original motion, I’d just like to point out the differences, and why I’d like them to be discussed, and that’s it I guess, because I can read the tea leaves as well.”

Rep. Bayer's proposal included taking $3 million from school district discretionary funding, in order to offset a possible early-retirement program for educators. Bayer felt that salaries below $30,000 could be detrimental.

"We have a constant need to recruit teachers into the classroom. I think this is a very important threshold at $30,000, and that it’s important not to go under. "

Considerable debate cropped up throughout the hearings, including statements on the validity of potential revenue increasing sources to help stop the gap faced by schools budget.

Sen Bilyeu said: "I can’t believe what we’re doing. We’re neglecting to tell the public what this cut really means. It really saddens me to see what we’re doing. I think there were other ways to bring in other dollars for education."

Legislators quibbled over the adequate level of compensation for teachers, but as Chair of JFAC Sen. Dean Cameron added:

"Just a reminder, we don’t set teacher salary here.”

The motion to cut teacher compensation by 4 percent passed on a 15-4 vote.

Additional intent language was heard that would declare a financial emergency for all Idaho State school districts, "for the purposes of reopening the salary and benefits compensation aspects of the negotiated agreement, including the length of the certificated employee contracts and the amount of compensation and benefits.”

Passing on a 12-7 vote, this would essentially allow all districts to reopen contracts.

Rep. Fred Wood said: “Every day we spend in here is a teacher’s entire year salary. This budget is for one year, and then it all goes back to normal. I think we have the resources to go back to normal.”

Afterward, Sen. Cameron thanked the members for their diligent work.

"This is 50 percent of the budget, and probably 50 percent of the work."