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Schools could get cash infusion

Sat., June 25, 2011

Idaho plans to spread $50 million among districts

NAMPA, Idaho – Idaho school districts are cautiously preparing to restore several cutbacks after being advised the state likely will distribute about $50 million in one-time payments next month if tax revenues meet projections in the final month of the fiscal year that ends June 30.

For the Coeur d’Alene School District, a $50 million statewide payout would mean nearly $1.7 million. Lakeland schools would get about $750,000, and Post Falls schools more than $900,000.

“I think it’ll be very significant,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “It may be the very thing that helps them through this tough budget year.”

Schools, already facing deep budget cuts for the past three years, would have full discretion on how they use the one-time payout. “They can do whatever they feel they need to do,” Cameron said. “They may buy back furlough days. They may use it toward staffing needs.”

But he called for caution, warning that more budget cuts still could lie ahead.

Hazel Bauman, superintendent of the Coeur d’Alene schools, agreed. “It’s one-time money,” she said.

Coeur d’Alene schools will spend the first $600,000 to buy badly needed textbooks and a school bus, expenditures Bauman said have been put “on the back burner” during the recession. Then they’ll reinstate two unpaid furlough days that had been planned for teachers next year. Much of the rest will go into the district’s fund balance, held to possibly restore other cuts, including reductions in teachers and aides, should the cuts prove unmanageable.

“We’re anticipating that the dire times are not over,” Bauman said. “Next year and possibly the year after are going to be difficult.”

Tom Taggart, Lakeland School District director of business and operations, said, “Really, the total amount ends up being what we were cut” for next year’s budget.

Sid Armstrong, business manager for the Post Falls district, said, “They could’ve just rolled us over and not done all this.”

Both Armstrong’s and Taggart’s school districts, anticipating the possible additional payout, negotiated with their teachers’ associations this spring on priorities for additional money if it came in. At Lakeland, the first priority is restoring one of three unpaid furlough days for teachers, followed by restoring cuts in textbooks and libraries, followed by restoring another furlough day.

In Post Falls, two of three teacher furlough days will be restored, followed by restoring plans to adopt a new math curriculum and then restoring part of cuts to health benefits.

“It’s pretty frustrating because we said all along that we thought they were being too conservative on their revenue,” Armstrong said. “They way underdid it. We basically went through all this stuff this spring to end up where we were again.”

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