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Eye on Boise: Schools could get $3 million a year more from endowment

Idaho schools could collect nearly $3 million a year more from the state’s endowment starting a year from now.

Based on how investment returns are coming into Idaho’s endowment, the state is expecting distributions to the beneficiaries – the largest of which is public schools – to jump by about 9 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2017.

The figures are based on balances at the end of March, so they’ll change when year-end figures come in. Idaho’s K-12 public schools are getting $31.3 million this year from the endowment and are scheduled to get $32.8 million in fiscal 2016, which starts July 1. At this point, schools would get $35.6 million in fiscal year 2017, an 8.8 percent increase.

Total distributions to all beneficiaries would rise 9.6 percent, a $5.4 million total increase, from $56.5 million in 2016 to $61.9 million in 2017. In addition, according to current forecasts, $28 million of excess reserves in five of the smaller endowments – those for agricultural college, charitable institutions, normal school, penitentiary and school of science – would be converted to permanent principal in those endowments.

The final figures and recommendations, which are set by the Endowment Fund Investment Board, will be presented to the state Land Board for approval in August. The Land Board is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, and also includes Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, state Controller Brandon Woolf and state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

In addition to the final months’ earnings, investment manager Larry Johnson told the Land Board last week that the figures also could vary slightly depending on final projections for the state’s 10-year forecast for land earnings and cabin site sales. Idaho auctioned off dozens of state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes during the past year, and plans another 80 to 100 at the two lakes in August or early fall. Those are sites on which renters have built and own cabins, while the state owns the land underneath; in most cases, the cabin owners have been the successful bidders in the auctions.

Tippets to head DEQ

State Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, has been named the next director of the state Department of Environmental Quality by Otter.

Tippets will start July 6. He succeeds former Director Curt Fransen, who retired in May.

Tippets, 63, who is now in his third term in the Senate after serving six two-year terms in the House, is chairman of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee. He is a retired public affairs manager for southeastern Idaho fertilizer manufacturer Agrium.

Tippets has a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in human resource management from Utah State University. When he served in the House, Tippets chaired the State Affairs Committee and served as majority caucus chairman.

Otter said Tippets is “what ranchers call a ‘good hand.’ ”

“When he’s assigned a responsibility, you can rest assured it will be accomplished professionally, thoughtfully and efficiently,” Otter said.

This is the third time in a month that Otter has chosen a current or former longtime state senator as a member of his Cabinet. Former Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, started last week as the new director of the state Department of Insurance; and former Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, who served in the Senate from 1995 to 2010, is Otter’s new state Administration Department director.

50th in nation

The latest report from the U.S. Census on per-pupil school spending by states, which came out earlier this month and reflects 2013 data, showed Idaho ranked 50th – next-to-last among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia – for per-pupil spending on public elementary and secondary education, edged out only by 51st-place Utah.

The Census showed Idaho per-pupil spending for 2013 at $6,791, compared to Utah’s $6,555. Highest was New York at $19,818; the U.S. average was $10,700. Washington was 29th at $9,672.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Statesman in Boise analyzed Idaho school funding and concluded that despite state lawmakers’ move this year to increase state funding for schools by 7.4 percent, when inflation is accounted for, per-student funding remains 6 percent below the 2006-07 level and 18.6 percent lower than 2006-07.

Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state Capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog. She can be reached at bzrussell@gmail.com or (208) 336-2854.