February 13, 2009 in Idaho

Critics blast school funding bills

They would limit teacher contracts to one year, cancel field-trip money
Staff writer
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Nonini
(Full-size photo)

Transportation funding proposals

 House lawmakers answered Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding salvo with ideas of their own Thursday that ranged from the mundane to the quirky, including plans to sell specially minted gold coins to fund asphalt repairs.

 The proposals came two days after Otter introduced bills of his own meant to raise a total of $174 million annually after five years of gradual increases, including boosting the gas tax to 35 cents from 25 cents, raising car and truck registration fees and levying a tax on rental cars.

 One of the House bills would boost the gas tax to 30 cents from 25 cents. Another would just boost it to 27 cents.

 And Rep. Russ Mathews, an Idaho Falls Republican, would sell commemorative coins to collectors, then distribute proceeds for road work.

Associated Press

BOISE – Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, the House Education Committee chairman, introduced two far-ranging bills Thursday to change state law to allow cuts in public school funding.

Among the proposals: No state funding for field trips, including academic outings, ever again. All school district contracts with teachers and other staff would expire at the end of every fiscal year. Idaho would repeal the law that requires no reductions in salary or contract days for experienced teachers.

“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 were introduced on 11-5 votes in the House Education Committee; three days of hearings between that panel and the Senate Education Committee are planned on the bills starting Monday.

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.

Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, was furious when she saw the measures.

“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 Tom Luna for weeks to find savings in the school budget, but were never informed about contents of the bills introduced Thursday.

“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. … What they’re going to get right now is a fight on this.”

Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, told Nonini, “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 bills 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 proposed changes are permanent rather than temporary, Nonini said, “We think that (economic) recovery time is still a moving target.”

Nonini said that if the economy improves, changes could be proposed again.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said she was “distressed” by the legislation. “It looks as though a sledgehammer was used when a scalpel was needed,” she said. “My experience has been that the teachers union and teachers individually understand where we are with our economy, and have been trying to work with some of us. … We need everybody to pull together. This doesn’t do us any good, in my opinion.”

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Senate education chairman, said he’s co-sponsoring the bill with Nonini, House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes.

Goedde said he thought the changes, including the one-year contracts provision, would give school districts more flexibility.

“I think it all fits together,” he said. “I would liken it to zero-based budgeting. … We start all over and decide what’s the best way to spend the money this year.”

Goedde said he will meet with educators in Coeur d’Alene on Saturday morning, including local trustees, school administrators and the local teachers union. “I’m sure that I will hear a lot,” he said.

Denney and Geddes confirmed that they’re co-sponsoring the bills but said they haven’t “pored over” the details.

“The only reason they’re good bills is we have really no other option to make the schools flexible enough to meet the funding goals,” Geddes said.

Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for Luna, said the state schools superintendent sees the bills as “necessary” to implement the $62 million in budget cuts for schools next year that he outlined earlier to legislative budget writers. That list, however, made no mention of one-year contracts.


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