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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

New school bond fees draw fire

For nearly a decade, Idaho has offered to guarantee bonds issued by its local school districts to win them a better interest rate, save local property taxpayers a few dollars and make the bonds easier to pass. Now, the state Endowment Board has decided to start charging fees to school districts that participate in the program - up to $1,000 for an application fee, plus up to 5 basis points, which adds up to about $15,000 for a typical $20 million bond issue. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is vehemently opposed to the new fees, and says he’ll fight to reverse them in the upcoming 2010 legislative session; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

School districts declare financial emergencies

At least a dozen Idaho school districts have declared financial emergencies under a new state law, and more are considering the move as they face their first-ever cut in state funding for schools next year. “There’s no money, so what can you do?” asked Ryan Kerby, superintendent of the New Plymouth School District in southwestern Idaho. In Bonner County, West Bonner Schools Superintendent Mike McGuire said he’s already cut a quarter-million dollars from next year’s budget, and it still hasn’t made up the shortfall. “We aren’t going to have a high school assistant principal next year in a high school of 400-plus students - that wasn’t a luxury,” he said. “We’ve made, I think, some pretty serious reductions throughout the district. We just don’t have anyplace else to look.”

The new financial emergency law lets a school district reopen teacher contracts, to negotiate possible adjustments in pay, hours or contract length. It allows temporary suspension of a state law that requires teachers to be paid at least what they were the previous year. West Bonner and Boundary County school districts already have made the declarations; Coeur d’Alene and Rathdrum schools are seriously considering it. Tom Taggart, business manager for the Lakeland School District in Rathdrum, said, “There’s a lot of potential risks with moving ahead with it, but it’s one of the few tools we have.” You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.