Plan for Idaho schools would delay budget cuts

FRIDAY, FEB. 19, 2010

BOISE – Idaho schools wouldn’t see midyear cuts this year under a plan unveiled by legislative budget writers on Thursday, but they’d face bigger cuts next year.

The plan, which goes up for a vote in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today, cuts $69 million more out of the current year’s state budget, but replaces the portion for public schools with reserve funds and stimulus money earmarked for next year.

Coeur d’Alene Schools Superintendent Hazel Bauman said, “I think it’s as good a plan as they could possibly come up with, given the circumstances.”

She said once the school year starts, “So much of our budget is contractually obligated that when, midyear, the story changes, it’s very difficult for us to change our story.” With the cuts pushed back to next year, she said, “We’re forewarned and therefore forearmed – we can make adjustments in our hiring practices, we can sit down with our local associations and determine what will be a fair settlement given the revenues and the circumstances.”

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said all the stakeholders – the associations of teachers, school superintendents, school boards and more – told lawmakers that the proposed plan is what they want.

The plan means schools would face cuts of at least 7 percent – more than $86 million in state general funds – next year.

Certain other areas that can’t take the full cut this year, including state prisons, also would get one-time money to reduce the cutback. By the end of the fiscal year on June 30, Idaho would have $30.8 million left in its budget stabilization fund, $17.6 million in its public education stabilization fund and $49.5 million in its economic recovery reserve fund. By the end of fiscal year 2011, however, nearly all state reserves would be spent.

The plan was developed by a group of committee members led by the co-chairs, Cameron and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and including North Idaho Sens. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.

If the joint budget-writing committee approves the plan this morning, it’ll be built into every state agency’s budget as it’s set for next year. Budget-setting for next year starts Monday, with the public school budget scheduled to be set a week from Monday.

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