Luna seeks more time to write 2014-15 budget


Schools chief Tom Luna has asked for more time to prepare the 2014-15 public schools budget request so he can build it around an education reform task force’s recommendations.

Tom Luna

Tom Luna

Typically, department heads and staffs submit initial budget requests on or about Sept. 1.

On Sept. 3, Luna submitted a placeholder “statutory budget” to the state’s Division of Financial Management and Legislative Services Office. But because Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education did not present its full recommendations until Aug. 23, Luna asked for an extra 30 days to submit a formal budget request.

“… I am requesting an extension to Oct. 3, 2013 to prepare and submit the FY2015 Public Schools Budget proposal so I will be able to submit a budget that is relevant to the Task Force’s recommendations,” Luna wrote to state officials on Sept. 3.

Task Force members submitted their final report to Otter on Sept. 6. Pubic comment on the recommendations will be accepted through Sept. 27 via email.

The budget Luna submitted does not reflect the budget lawmakers and Otter will consider when the legislative session opens in January, State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said.

“Superintendent Luna will be working closely with all stakeholders as well as the staff at the State Department of Education on developing a budget request that addresses the recommendations of the Task Force,” McGrath wrote in an email to Idaho Education News. “Superintendent Luna is tasked with preparing a budget recommendation for fiscal year 2015, but he also is cognizant that the Task Force recommendations are not a one-year solution.”

Legislative Services Office Director Jeff Youtz and Division of Financial Management Administrator Jani Revier granted Luna’s request for an extension.

However, they said any task force proposals, such as a new teacher pay model based on a career ladder, will need to be voted on as individual budget line items. They also urged Luna to be sensitive to the  budget development timeline.

“At nearly one-half of the general fund budget, having the public schools budget in maintenance form in a timely manner is critical to … both the Legislature and governor in understanding this request,” they wrote to Luna.

The public schools budget is the largest state expense, and typically one of the most closely watched budgets around the Statehouse. Otter will outline his budget recommendations in January during his “State of the State” address. The budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will then spend two to three months crafting agency budgets for the  Legislature’s consideration.

Luna views the task force recommendations as “comprehensive” and may not prioritize them – a tactic the task force also avoided.

Taken as a whole, the recommendations are likely to include a price tag of several hundred million dollars.

“Superintendent Luna strongly believes if you ignore one, the others will not be as successful,” McGrath wrote. “Therefore, the combination of all these recommendations is critical.”