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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Federal infusion will let Idaho schools drop furlough days

Twelve-year-old Madison Gallus registers for seventh-grade classes at Canfield Middle School in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday.  (Kathy Plonka)
By Betsy Z. Russell and Jody Lawrence-Turner The Spokesman-Review

North Idaho education officials are still deciding what to do with their cut of the $51.6 million coming to the state from a federal jobs bill.

But they know the one-time, unexpected federal aid can only be used at the school level – not in district offices – and must be spent in 27 months.

The money is from the federal jobs bill passed by Congress nearly two weeks ago. It was created in part to save education jobs.

Eliminating unpaid furlough days and bringing back school employees were among the priorities for at least two North Idaho districts.

“We had previously agreed if the money made itself available, we’d use it to reinstate the furlough days,” Steve Briggs, Coeur d’Alene School District’s chief financial officer, said Tuesday. “We believe it will cover all six days.”

Coeur d’Alene will receive about $1.8 million of the federal funds; reinstating the days will cost about $1.2 million, Briggs said.

“That’s important because it gets kids back in schools, and it reinstates work days” for faculty and staff, Briggs said. “How we will use what is left is yet to be determined.”

The furlough equaled nearly a 3 percent pay cut for certified staff, such as teachers, counselors and librarians.

The federal aid was welcome news after Idaho lawmakers cut an unprecedented $128 million from the state’s public school budget this year – 7.5 percent – and declared a statewide financial emergency to allow school districts to reopen negotiated teacher contracts and cut pay and benefits.

The federal money, coming just as school starts, could allow districts to reverse up to 40 percent of those cuts, but if they follow the governor’s advice and spread the money over two years, the impact could be less.

The Idaho State Board of Education, which is distributing the federal funds, announced each district’s allocation Friday. Many of the districts still need to go through a formal approval process to decide what to do with the money.

The Post Falls School District will receive nearly $1 million, but “there’s quite a bit of discussion to have yet with our board,” said Sid Armstrong, district business manager.

District officials hope to eliminate five scheduled furlough days and restore some of the cut classified and staff positions, he said.

However, the money is just a short bridge to the next budget crisis.

“We were encouraged that it came through,” Briggs said. “It’s going to help, but it’s not a solution. We are not likely to go back to a stable economic situation any time soon.”