Chief: Idaho schools need more budget flexibility

admin Contributor
Font Size:

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools will need greater flexibility — including the ability to modify teacher contracts — to weather a proposed $27 million midyear cut, the Idaho Department of Education said.

A rainy day fund to protect K-12 education has all but dried up and schools districts have 85 percent to 90 percent of their funding tied up in contracted salaries, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna on Monday told reporters after the governor gave his State of the State speech to open the 2010 Legislature.

A shrinking safety net and hefty contract obligations leaves public schools with few places to turn, Luna said.

“Districts are going to have to find this money elsewhere, and that’s why it becomes very difficult, because you only have about 10 to 15 percent of your budget that you can go to,” he said.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced plans Monday to balance Idaho’s budget by cutting another $40 million from this year’s spending by reducing public education and delaying cash for a livestock research center near Twin Falls.

This would be the first midyear cut for Idaho schools, the governor’s finance chief, Wayne Hammon, told reporters.

While Otter proposed using education reserves to spare public schools from a 4 percent state holdback in September, he now is asking Idaho’s 115 school districts to absorb all of a separate $27 million reduction by using their own reserves. Republican leaders in the House and Senate support the plan.

School districts without enough in local reserves to meet contract obligations this year would be able to borrow money from the state, but would have to dip into 2011 funding to pay back any loans.

Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said she has huge concerns with the proposal.

“That’s basically deficit spending, that’s spending money you don’t have to pay for something right now,” Kelly said. “We don’t want to do that with our children’s education.”

The proposed cuts would amount to closing public schools and furloughing employees for a day each month until the end of the fiscal year in June, she said.

“If we’re going to pull out of the economic spiral that we’re in, we need to be investing in education, not dismantling it,” Kelly said.