House panel kills chairman’s bill

House Education Committee members on Tuesday killed a bill pushed by their own chairman during an unusual morning meeting.

House Bill 307, which directed how to use a planned restoration of a 1.67 percent cut to salary-based apportionment, failed on an 8-8 tie vote.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Five committee Republicans voted against the bill and broke from Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, the bill’s sponsor. All three committee Democrats also opposed the bill.

Voting no were Reps. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly; Steven Harris, R-Meridian; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry; Hy Kloc, D-Boise; Donna Pence, D-Gooding; and Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.

DeMordaunt pushed the bill as a follow up to the 2013-2014 budget the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set March 4. The 1.67 percent cut to salary-based apportionment – sometimes referred to as the “fifth factor” – was passed in 2011 as a way to pay for aspects of the Students Come First laws. The JFAC budget, which has yet to be considered by the House or Senate, would restore that 1.67 percent cut.

Killing DeMordaunt’s bill does not directly affect the JFAC school budget.

DeMordaunt’s bill specifically directed the restored money to either paying for increasing school staff sizes or adding contract days.

“This is to assure this money is directed to the classroom in two specific ways,” DeMordaunt said. “… In districts across the state, because of the economic situation we were faced with, they responded in various ways — either by cutting instructional days or by having to cut instructors. This is an attempt to try to get back to where we were.”

The hearing drew a crowd of spectators that filled all but one or two of the roughly 60 seats in the committee room. Despite the packed house, only six people other than DeMordaunt testified. Idaho Education Association Executive Director Robin Nettinga and five teachers all opposed the bill.

Idaho State Department of Education Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Hancock answered questions to clarify what the bill would do, but did not advocate a specific position on the legislation.

Those who opposed it said House Bill 307 would rob school districts of local control in deciding how to use the money. Teachers also said the money had been removed from salary-based apportionment and should be returned there without restrictions.

“That (bill) assumes every single district needs those two things,” said Adria Hultberg, a second-grade teacher in the Boise School District. “This is not one- size fits all … I think local control has to be put back.”

Hultberg said her salary was either frozen or cut over the previous four years, costing her $10,000 per year.

“Really it feels like a slap in the face,” Hultberg said. “That’s the way it feels to us as educators.”

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Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

In a somewhat unusual move, Clow made a motion to send the bill forward with a recommendation for approval, and then promptly debated against it. Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said in his 11 years in the Legislature he could not remember a lawmaker making a motion to approve a bill and then debating against it.

Clow could have instead made a motion to return the bill to its sponsor or send it in for amendments, but he said he wanted to put a motion on the table simply to begin debate.

“When we had to make all the (budget) adjustments three, four years ago, we didn’t give specific direction for all school districts on how to deal with it,” Clow said. “They had options …. I do buy into the idea that, maybe, we should allow school districts to have that same flexibility.”