Back to life: Salary bill revived

House Bill 307 is back from the dead.

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Rep. Pete Nielsen R-Mountain Home

On Wednesday, members of the House Education Committee announced they would revive the bill – a decision that came about 24 hours after the committee voted 8-8 and killed the bill.

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, opened Wednesday’s meeting by ruling that Tuesday’s vote was illegal. Nielsen said the vote was out-of-order because Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, made a motion to send the bill to the floor with a recommendation it pass, and then promptly debated and voted against the bill.

To make matters more interesting, three committee members announced Wednesday they planned to change their votes. Reps. Steven Harris, R-Meridian and Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said they would change their “no” votes to “yes” votes. Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said he would change his “yes” vote to a “no” vote.

During Tuesday’s original hearing, five teachers testified against the bill, with some saying their salaries had been cut in response to budget tightening.

Adria Hultberg, a second grade teacher in the Boise School District, told lawmakers her salary had been cut or frozen over the past three or four years, costing her $10,000 per year.

But on Wednesday, Harris said he is reconsidering what he heard.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

“To the best of my knowledge, (education work) days were reduced and some teachers lost positions, but the salary decreases that were testified to yesterday didn’t occur,” Harris said.

The bill dealt with a planned restoration of a 1.67 percent shift away from salary-based apportionment to pay for elements of the Students Come First laws. After Wednesday’s hearing, Idaho State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the 1.67 percent was money the state had sent to districts for educators’ salaries. The 1.67 percent was reduced from the amount available for salaries, and then districts ultimately made their own decisions on setting teachers’ salaries.

In the end, committee members held off from a vote Wednesday and opted to take House Bill 307 up again Thursday morning – when a second vote is possible.

Pushed by Housed Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, House Bill 307 would direct the way the 1.67 percent could be spent once it is returned. DeMordaunt wants the money to be used only for adding days back into the teachers’ working calendars or to pay for additional staff members.

He said the idea is to return districts to where they were before the Great Recession era budget cuts.

But opponents of the bill said those specific directions rob districts of local control and the money should be returned to salary-based apportionment with no restriction on how districts use it once it is in salaries.

The debate is part of an ongoing legislative struggle over the role of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the education committees when it comes to setting budgets and policy.

Five Republican senators had earlier objected to the 2013-2014 school budget set by JFAC, citing concerns about the role of “intent language” and policy versus budgetary decisions.

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