BOISE - Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, the House Education Committee chairman, proposed two far-ranging bills this morning to make permanent changes in state law to allow cuts in Idaho’s public school funding.
Among them: No state funding for field trips, including academic outings, ever again. All school district contracts with staff would expire at the end of every fiscal year, and no terms or conditions could carry over beyond that. Idaho would repeal the law that requires no reduction in salary or contract days for experienced teachers. School districts could impose reductions in force regardless of contract terms.
State reimbursement to school districts for busing would drop from 85 percent of costs to 50 percent, though discretionary funding would increase to make up part of the loss. “This is not fun stuff … but we’re in a crisis,” Nonini told the committee. “The other thing we are accomplishing in this legislation is not to have teachers lose their jobs.”
Both bills - one on personnel and contracts, the other on transportation - were introduced on 11-5 votes in the committee; three days of joint education hearings are planned on them next week. The committee’s North Idaho members split; Nonini and Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, supported introducing the bills, while Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, voted no.
Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, told Nonini, “With all due respect, these changes will impact our children in Idaho. … I understand that we all have to make sacrifices, I am well aware of that. But it appears to me from this … that the sacrifices are being made by the teachers. They’re to teach the same amount of contract time but with less money, less assurance.” If the bill were passed, she said, “I can’t imagine a teacher from somewhere else wanting to come here.”
When Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, asked why the changes are all permanent rather than temporary, Nonini said, “Not knowing when these better times will come, it’s pretty hard to go in and put a sunset in there. … We think that recovery time is still a moving target.”
Nonini said if economic times improve, any legislator in the future could propose changes to the law.
Nonini said no Attorney General’s opinion has been sought on the bill, and he said he didn’t think it canceled existing contracts, which would be unconstitutional. “They still have their contracts, I think,” he told The Spokesman-Review. “What this legislation would do is just allow these school districts the flexibility to negotiate. … It gets the district and the teachers association to the table to negotiate.”
Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, received the new education bills that were introduced this morning by fax while attending a conference in Seattle, and immediately went into a conference call to examine them. “I’m outraged - angry,” she said. “When the educators of the state of Idaho see this language, that’s what they’ll be as well.”
“Basically it’s an attack on collective bargaining and negotiations that have been in place since 1971,” she said. “It says every contract will end at the end of the school year and you have to start all over again. That’s just an attack on educators, and has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with budget cuts. … This is mean-spirited and it’s wrong, and it doesn’t need to happen.”
House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said Democrats and education stakeholders have been working with state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna for weeks on ways to find savings in the school budget, but were never informed about the far-reaching bills introduced this morning. “Suddenly here it is,” he said. “We’ve got parents all over the state who have no idea this train is coming down the track,” with “monumental changes.”
Ruchti said the new legislation is “putting jobs at risk at a time when unemployment is spiraling in the state,” and said, “I’m really surprised the superintendent and the House education chairman would take this approach. … What they’re going to get right now is a fight on this.”
Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for Luna, said Luna isn’t a co-sponsor of the bills, which are sponsored by Nonini and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. “But these bills would be necessary to implement the 10 ideas he presented to JFAC,” the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, she said. Luna outlined 10 budget cuts totaling $62 million for public schools next year, plus proposed dipping into a reserve fund for $17 million to balance the budget. “These bills are necessary to implement the 10 ideas that he proposed,” McGrath said.