January 27, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho schools chief has plan to offset teacher pay cuts

Jessie L. Bonner Associated Press
 

BOISE – Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna told lawmakers Thursday he wants to offset a planned $19 million reduction in Idaho teacher pay and benefits next year using projected state revenue the governor had hoped to funnel into a rainy day account for education.

The state is poised to move the money from salaries to help pay for classroom technology and teacher pay-for-performance as part of Luna’s “Students Come First” education changes.

This year, the state is shifting about $14.7 million in employee pay and benefits to help pay for the education changes.

The reduced state funding for salaries has resulted in fewer teachers and larger class sizes for some school districts. To preserve salaries in the next year, which starts July 1, Luna wants to backfill the $19.4 million set to be shifted away from employee pay and benefits.

Luna’s plan relies on $29 million in projected state revenues that Gov. Butch Otter wanted to shift into a reserve fund for public education in 2013. Under Otter’s plan, teachers and other state workers would receive bonuses if state tax revenues stayed on track.

Luna, however, contends that it’s more important to offset the reduction in salaries before replenishing the reserves.

“I recommend we put revenues toward salary-based apportionment first,” Luna told legislative budget writers.

Idaho teachers overall would see an additional 5 percent increase in compensation next year if merit pay is included, said Luna. He estimated that 85 percent of educators statewide would already see increases through the pay-for-performance bonuses under Students Come First.

The budget Luna presented to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee includes $1.27 billion in state general funding for public schools. That’s a 4.7 percent, or $57 million, increase over the state’s public education spending in the current fiscal year.

Luna said his spending plan for 2013 falls in line with the governor’s budget recommendation, though the governor only called for a 2.6 percent increase for schools. That’s partly because the state now expects smaller increases in its student population, reducing costs by $8 million, and because Luna would tap into funds the governor wanted to put in reserves.

Luna said two-thirds of Idaho high schools have expressed interest in being among the first third of schools to get new laptop computers for each student under Students Come First, so he’s convinced there’s “overwhelming support that’s been developed for this one-to-one program.”

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this report.

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