State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna says the stress and pain lawmakers talked of during this year's legislative session as they set a public school budget containing historic cuts now will fall on local school districts, as they cope with the results. "The real stress and the real pressure is shifting to the local school districts," Luna told the Associated Press. "This is unprecedented, the kind of cuts they're going to deal with." He said his office plans to offer guidance and technical assistance to school superintendents as they navigate the new flexibility afforded them in education spending for next year that accompanies the cuts; click below to read a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
Idaho public schools brace for budget woes
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press Writer
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers were reluctant to stamp approval on a plan that slashes total spending on public education for the first year in Idaho history, but many insisted they had done their best.
The 2010 Legislature that ended this week leaves Idaho school districts with $128 million less in funding when classes start again next fall, under a budget that was crafted in the thick of rising unemployment and diminishing tax revenues.
"This session has been very stressful," said Sen. Dean Cameron, co-chairman of the budget writing committee. "The overall goal was the same, to do the best we could."
Now, lawmakers are headed home to communities with schools that may have to increase class sizes, teachers facing leaner paychecks and parents who may not understand why their kids have outdated textbooks and longer bus commutes.
"They keep saying it's painful, but the people it's most painful for are the children in those schools," said Laurie Boeckel, a parent who often lobbies on education issues as the Idaho PTA's legislative vice president.
The dilemma that faced lawmakers will be overshadowed by the tougher choices that await local school districts and administrators across the state, said Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna.
The budget shaves 4 percent from Idaho's share of teacher and classified staff salaries. Teachers also won't get automatic raises based on education or experience and administrators will take a 6.5 percent salary hit.
But the plan also gives school districts more flexibility to spend what they do get, allowing them to redirect money for items such as new computers and other supplies to their most critical needs.
Luna said his office plans to offer guidance and technical assistance to school superintendents as they navigate the new flexibility afforded them in education spending for next year.
Idaho's 115 school districts and charter schools hold about 278,600 students.
"The real stress and the real pressure is shifting to the local school districts," Luna said. "This is unprecedented, the kind of cuts they're going to deal with."
Despite budget woes, lawmakers did manage some reforms to improve education and offered up measures with little or no cost over the course of the 78-day session.
A bill requiring school districts with more than 300 students to post their checkbooks online and allow more public scrutiny of their finances survived. So did a plan to reward students who graduate high school early with scholarships.
Legislation that would have required online educators to obtain a certificate showing they're qualified to teach on the Internet was dumped after education officials raised concerns about a possible financial burden on teachers.
A bill to allow more charter schools for certain groups of students — such as minorities or those with disabilities — to open each year was also set aside as lawmakers focused on how to stem the financial bleeding in Idaho's K-12 system.
The $1.58 billion budget for public education is about 7.8 percent less than schools got last year, a plan Democrats refused to back after their ideas to come up with more money to offset the cuts died in both GOP-dominated chambers.
"Every other agency in state government has taken bigger cuts, earlier," said Sen. Brent Hill, an eastern Idaho Republican. "I feel bad that we can't do more, but I don't feel bad that we haven't done enough."
The flexibility given to school districts in the budget plan reflects compromise reached during talks between Luna, the Idaho teachers union, the Association of School Boards, the Association of School Superintendents and lawmakers.
Everybody gave a little, lawmakers said, but no one left Boise pleased with the spending plan for Idaho's public schools during the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, flanked by Republican leaders at a press conference Tuesday, praised lawmakers for making the tough decisions that went into the budget plan for public education
"There isn't a person up here that wouldn't have wanted more money for education," Otter said. "But getting that money in this economy means raising taxes and raising taxes in this economy ... I don't believe that's a smart thing to do."
On the Net:
The Idaho Legislature: http://legislature.idaho.gov
The Idaho State Department of Education: http://www.sde.idaho.gov/
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.