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Eye On Boise

Tue., March 4, 2008, 9:57 a.m.

JFAC sets school budget with 2.2 percent for teachers

Teachers would get just 2.2 percent in funding from the state for base salary increases next year, plus a boost in the minimum teacher salary from $31,000 to $31,930, under a public school budget set by JFAC this morning after two hours of rancorous debate and several divided votes. “I’m trying to accomplish putting the money where it makes the most difference,” said Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who engineered the teacher pay plan. Bayer lined out enough money to increase the minimum teacher salary by 3 percent, and to hike base salaries for those teachers who’ve taught for 14 years or more by 3 percent. But those in the middle would get no base salary increase, because Bayer said they already would get salary grid increases for their increased experience.

However, it’s up to school districts as to how they pay teachers, beyond the minimum salary – all the state does is provide a pot of money, based on the grid. So the result is simply a 2.2 percent increase in state funding for base salaries. State employees this year are getting a 3 percent increase in funding for their salaries, with 1 percent of that across the board and 2 percent distributed through merit raises.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, joined Bayer in pushing his plan, saying he wanted to take the nearly $1 million in savings from teacher salaries and use it to fund a concurrent enrollment program to pay for college classes for needy high school students. “We’re gonna take the money and give it to the poor kids, so if you want to argue against that, let’s go,” he declared.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, spoke out against trying to change the state’s teacher pay system through a budget allocation. “If we want to change the grid, we need to go to the germane committee and talk about that there,” she said. “The substitute motion short-changes the districts, and it short-changes the middle section of teachers in this state. It will be very clear … that they were shorted and overlooked.” But she said districts will make up the shortfall, because they’re required to do so by contract. So they’ll cut elsewhere, whether it’s by cutting educational programs or supplies or going to voters to raise property taxes – the very property taxes that lawmakers in 2006 tried to lower. Keough said the most experienced teachers would appreciate raises, but “not at the expense of the entire system.”

She proposed an alternative plan to simply fund 3 percent for base increases for teachers and not change the minimum teacher salary this year. It failed, 9-11. Bayer’s motion then passed, 12-8. Sen. Stan Bastian, R-Eagle, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, tried to shift just over $2 million from pupil transportation costs to teacher salaries to generate enough for both a 3 percent base increase and a $500 hike in the minimum salary, but that move fell short on a 7-13 vote. The joint committee is not yet done setting the public school budget; two slices of it remain to be debated tomorrow, along with the intent language to accompany Bayer’s successful motion on teacher funding. Click below to see who voted which way in today’s budget fights.

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Eye On Boise

Short takes and breaking news from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.