A big budget hit looms for schools in timber country

Schools in Idaho timber country could face a multimillion dollar budget hit.

The reason: Congress has failed to reauthorize a 2000 federal law that provided a financial safety net for schools and counties in timber country.

In 2013-14, Idaho received $28.3 million for roads and schools, under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. Idaho’s 2015 payment will barely exceed $2 million.

About a quarter of Idaho’s $28.3 million, slightly under $7.2 million, went to school districts.

Since Secure Rural Schools payments were designed to offset declines in timber receipts, they were funneled to schools with an abundance of federal forests.

The biggest payment, $1,123,117.20, went to the Mountain View School District — a sprawling 8,300-square-mile district in Idaho County, taking in Grangeville, Elk City and Kooskia. Idaho’s largest school district, West Ada, received $719.58.

Eight other districts received at least $250,000 in Secure Rural Schools payments in 2013-14:

  • Salmon: $473,525.33.
  • McCall-Donnelly: $438,506.76.
  • Cottonwood: $408,083.57.
  • Kellogg: $397,422.91.
  • Challis: $389,975.11.
  • Boundary County: $370,744.62.
  • Orofino: $335,555.36.
  • Kamiah: $282,740.23.

Idaho is by no means unique, although it is taking a disproportionately heavy hit. Nationally, Secure Rural Schools payments are dropping by about 83 percent; Idaho’s decrease will exceed 93 percent.

The bad news for rural schools comes as the 2015 Legislature begins debating the K-12 budget for 2015-16. Gov. Butch Otter has requested a 7.4 percent increase for K-12. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra is seeking a 6.4 percent increase.

Ybarra, however, is seeking more money in operational funding — so-called discretionary dollars designed to help districts cover a variety of needs, such as textbooks, utilities and employee benefits. Statewide, it will take more than $60 million to restore these operational dollars to pre-recession levels.

Ybarra will present her budget request to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Thursday. (Check back at Idaho Education News Thursday for full coverage.) 

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