New Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra stepped into the legislative spotlight Thursday and echoed her call to increase public school funding by 6.4 percent next year.
Ybarra delivered her 2015-16 budget request to the Joint-Finance Appropriations Committee in front of a standing-room only crowd. Her budget hearing marked the first time she has gone before lawmakers to outline her budget and policy priorities, and make her case for leading the state’s public school system.
Ybarra was ambiguous on the details about teacher salaries and the proposed career ladder pay plan. She called for spending $25 million on the closely watched career ladder, but told budget-writers to stay tuned for the details.
That prompted a flurry of questions from Reps. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and John Gannon, D-Boise, and Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, who pushed for specifics and sought guidance in setting teacher salaries.
“I am concerned that in exchange for accountability there is a promise of funding for our school district employees,” Gannon said. “So can you tell me how much funding is in your budget for increased compensation for school district employees, teacher professionals?”
In response, Ybarra appeared to defer to Gannon and JFAC colleagues.
“That is going to depend on funding for the career ladder,” Ybarra said.
Sen. Dean Cameron, the Republican JFAC co-chairman from Rupert, acknowledged that there was not as much detail in Ybarra’s budget presentation as budget-writers were used to.
But Cameron also pointed out that Ybarra inherited the budget request from her predecessor, former Superintendent Tom Luna, and that Ybarra has only been on the job for a month.
“In past presentations, sometimes, there has been a little more detail as to what the budget is going to entail,” said Cameron, adding that Ybarra is in an awkward position because the tiered licensure and career ladder proposals were developed in November and December.
Horman, who plans to carry the public school budget in the House and is anxious to start crafting the budget, also sought more clarity on Ybarra’s teacher pay plans.
“I’m just throwing numbers out there that could change based on the decisions to come,” Ybarra told her.
Horman, an early supporter of Ybarra’s during last year’s campaign, said she will continue to push for more details.
“I look forward to working with (Ybarra) to flesh out more detail,” Horman said.
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Ybarra emphasized that the budget she presented was crafted mainly by Luna and his staff. She recommended some tweaks — pushing $18.7 million from line items into the pool for discretionary funding that districts may use as needed.
“I didn’t swear into (office) until Jan. 5,” Ybarra said. “These are numbers from my predecessor. Most of what I made were modifications to meet the needs of districts.”
Overall, Ybarra called for an $87.1 million increase in public schools. Earlier this month, Gov. Butch Otter opened the 2015 legislative session calling for a $101.1 million spending increase, a 7.4 percent boost.
Throughout her presentation, Ybarra called for increased local control and increasing discretionary spending – frequently called operational funding.
“Local trustees and administrators have a much better understanding and perspective of the specific needs and problems in their own communities than we have in Boise,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra called for restoring discretionary funding to $24,160 per classroom unit. Otter’s budget would bring per-classroom spending levels to $23,659.
Both figures are less than the pre-recession levels of $25,696 reached in 2008-09, before public school budgets were cut drastically.
Ybarra devoted 17 minutes to her prepared speech and outline of the K-12 budget — which is typically the state’s biggest expense and accounted about 47 percent of general fund spending this year. She then fielded lawmakers’ questions for nearly an hour.
JFAC members concluded the hearing nearly an hour and a half before its scheduled 11 a.m. adjournment.
In years past, Luna had devoted more than an hour to his speech and budget presentation before taking questions.
Enhanced coverage from Ybarra’s press conference:
Ybarra discusses the task force recommendation for mastery, and a difference between her budget proposal and Otter’s:
Ybarra discusses the career ladder proposal for teacher pay and why she favors a pilot program:
Ybarra discusses her proposal to impose limits on class sizes in kindergarten through third grades:
Ybarra and her staff discuss the Idaho Eduction Network service audit:
Ybarra discusses how JFAC will have the final decision on the school budget: