Tim Hill is a funny guy

Tim Hill’s resume

Deputy Superintendent of Public School Finance
Employed by the State Department of Education for 15 years
Has worked under three State Superintendents of Public Instruction
Spent 20 years as a banker
Master’s degree in finance
Comedian

Hill certainly wouldn’t write comedian on his resume, but on Wednesday morning during a long numbers presentation to the House Education Committee, he was funny.

“I treat everyone like they are going to be my next boss. You never know what will happen next.”

Hill explained to House Education Committee members how Idaho funds schools. Most of the committee members are freshmen so the numbers, charts and graphs presented by Hill seemed to swirl over their heads.

“It’s quite a complicated formula,” Education chair Rep. Reed DeMordaunt warned.

No kidding. And if it hadn’t been for Hill’s occasional daggers of dry humor, the morning could have been brutal.

“I’m here to tell you how it works, not how it should work.”

Hill walked through slide after slide of math problems that helped illustrate how money is earned by the state and then handed out.

Committee members learned:

  • Income and sales taxes account for most of the state’s revenue (88 percent).
  • Nearly half of the state’s general fund goes to public education (47 percent).
  • Districts spend 85 percent of their money on salaries and benefits.
  • It requires nearly $2 billion to operate Idaho’s public schools.

That part was relatively easy. Then Hill explained why each district and charter gets a different amount of money.

“Two districts right next to each other have significant differences in the money then receive.”

Huh?

“People ask me if charter schools get more or less than districts and I tell them yes.”

Money is given to districts and charters on “three legs of funding”:

  1. Size (larger districts get less money per student)
  2. Staff hired (experience and education)
  3. Student mix (grades served)

“I intentionally leave my opinions at home.”

Then came the explanation of how Support Units are calculated (i.e., good time to get a drink, use the rest room, stretch).

“I wouldn’t recommend changing what has historically benefited school districts.”

Hill explained how the state pays for teacher salaries. The state uses an “experience and education multiplier,” which means that districts get more money if they hire more expensive teachers. Therefore, hiring an educator at the minimum salary means the district gets less money. (Hill also pointed out that base salary is lower than minimum salary. That took three charts to illustrate.)

“It makes it affordable to consider anybody. You get to hire the people you need because you will be mostly funded for those people.”

One of the biggest funding issues of this session is about the February 15th payment to districts, which changed after the repeal of the Students Come First laws. Hill said that this payment is one of five distributed throughout the year and only 10 percent of the total for the fiscal year. Good news: The May payment can reflect any changes that the 2013 Legislature makes.

“If they are counting on the February 15 payment to balance their budget, then they have bigger problems than I can help them with.”

Hill had lots of other numbers and has made available hundreds of pages of documents “in PDF or excel,” he told lawmakers, to help them understand school finance. Luckily, he also has a few one-liners that make learning public school finance a little easier.