March 26, 2009 in Idaho

Idaho House endorses second school funding cut

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

House majority and minority leaders huddle at the speaker’s desk to discuss procedural issues, during a brief break in the debate on legislation to cut funding for public school teacher salaries by freezing movement on the salary grid for a year. Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, left, talks to House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, right.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - The Idaho House has voted 49-20 for HB 262, to cut $8.1 million from school funding next year by trimming teacher pay.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, would freeze movement on the teacher salary schedule for increased experience for a year, and phase out an early retirement incentive. It was strongly opposed by House Democrats, who tried several procedural moves unsuccessfully Thursday to sideline the bill.

“Tough issues call for tough votes, and today is going to be another tough vote,” Nonini, the House education chairman, said before the vote. “We’re doing the tough things we have to do. … In tough times, things have to be taken back.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said the bill’s provisions were rejected when all interests came together to negotiate consensus legislation on how to handle a financial emergency in Idaho’s schools. “Why, then, is it back before us?” he asked.

Freezing teacher salary schedule movement for a year will permanently affect teachers’ eventual retirement pay, he said, a move that Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, a lawyer, said creates legal problems.

“It’s not necessary to poke teachers in the eye,” Rusche said. “This is unneeded and a divisive bill - it’s wrong for Idaho schools and the kids and families they serve.”

House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, countered, “Let’s keep in mind that none of us are enjoying this process - it’s the economy. It’s not mean-spiritedness. … We’ve had a major downturn, the revenue is not available. … It is only the economy.”

Nonini told the House, “The purpose of this bill is to reduce the cost of the fiscal year 2010 public school appropriation. … What we’re trying to do is preserve the programs and the learning opportunities for the children.”

The bill is one of three that Nonini sponsored to allow Idaho’s first-ever cut in school funding, which the Legislature’s joint budget committee is likely to enact on Friday. One of the three, which passed the House unanimously, was a consensus bill endorsed by education groups that allows temporary suspension of various laws when school districts face financial emergency.

The other two are HB 262 and one to cut state reimbursement to school districts for student busing costs, which passed the House yesterday.

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