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Do-over on public school budget

In a very rarely seen move, JFAC this morning reconsidered the action it took yesterday on the teachers portion of the public schools budget, and passed an entirely new plan. This time, it was unanimous. The new plan includes a 2.5 percent base salary increase for teachers and a $750 increase in the minimum teacher salary, to $31,750. It doesn’t shift any money out of teacher pay to fund a concurrent enrollment program for poor high school kids to take college classes, but JFAC did approve $50,000 in another portion of the budget to set up a task force under state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna to develop a statewide concurrent enrollment program and bring it back for consideration next year. There’s also $50,000 for a task force to formulate a plan for better teacher evaluations in Idaho. Gone from the budget is language engineered by Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, to direct base salary increases only to teachers at the top end of the pay grid.

Said Bayer, “The language that was inherent in the motion yesterday, I will classify it as ahead of its time.” Bayer said he heard from teachers and others that it was unworkable. “Basically, this brought to light how the system is broke and needs to be improved,” he said, something that will take “substantial” discussion and action by germane committees to examine Idaho’s teacher pay system. “So if this forces a paradigm shift, great,” Bayer said. He proposed the new plan, which won him praise from all sides on the committee. Said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, “I think we all want to do the best we can for teachers – we want to support them, and it’s easier said than done.” Hammond noted that actual raises that teachers receive are decided in their local school districts, not by the state Legislature, which merely provides a pot of money that districts supplement.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, thanked Bayer and the others who worked on the reconsideration and new plan. “I concur with putting some money into the teacher evaluation task force. … I think most of us are hoping that we, in the next session, will be able to move ahead with an alternative method of compensating teachers,” with all parties at the table. Said Sen. Stan Bastian, R-Eagle, “As we move toward a pay for performance criteria for teachers, we need to have a solid instrument (for evaluations). If we do that, we can build into pay for performance at least a recognition of what excellence in teaching is.” Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, “I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the leadership of the co-chairs and Rep. Bayer. In the four years I’ve been on this committee, we’ve never done a reconsideration like this.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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