Committee defies chairman, spikes budget bill

Senate Education Committee members voted as a large bloc — and went against their chairman — and held a bill that forced school districts to use nearly $14 million in salary money to rehire teachers or restore classroom days.

Scuttling House Bill 325 means the districts could use this money to increase teacher pay — provided, of course, that the Senate actually approves the K-12 budget that contains the money.

At issue is a 1.67 percent increase in salary-based money, known in legislative jargon as the “fifth factor.” This money was cut to pay for portions of the Students Come First legislation. The 2013-14 public schools budget, House Bill 323, restores the $14 million, a little over 1 percent of the overall general fund budget.

HB 325 would have required districts to use the $14 million to replace teaching jobs or contract days lost to the recession. The House passed the bill last week, 44-20.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde argued for the bill, which he co-sponsored with House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle. He described the one-year measure as a step toward reversing several years of cuts. “What’s better for the children?” asked Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Idaho Education Association executive director Robin Nettinga opposed the bill. Idaho Association of School Administrators executive director Rob Winslow said he has discussed the bill with a few district officials, and heard mixed reviews.

Ultimately, only Goedde and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, voted against a motion to hold the bill in committee — likely killing it for the session.

The committee’s action comes one day before the Senate is expected to vote on the $1.3 billion public schools budget. Passing this budget is one of the final hurdles to adjourning the 2013 legislative session.

In other news from Senate Education:

A labor bill resurfaces? The Senate will apparently make a last-ditch bid to rescue a labor bill that was voted down on Friday.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

Senate Education sent Senate Bill 1040 to the floor for amendment — or, as Mortimer ruefully put it, “major amendment.”

The plan is to rewrite SB 1040, a school labor bill that was introduced in late January, but left in limbo for nearly two months. The rewrite would cast the bill in the image of Senate Bill 1148, which would have allowed school districts to cut teacher salaries or eliminate contract days.

SB 1148 died Friday on the Senate floor on a 14-19 vote.  A couple of senators voted against SB 1148 to signal their opposition to the 2013-14 public schools budget.

SB 1040 will get a “radiator capping,” said Goedde, invoking Statehouse slang for a bill that gets heavily amended. The bill’s chassis and engine will be swapped out, leaving only the original “radiator cap,” its bill number.

If the rewritten SB 1040 passes the Senate, the House would still have to sign on — in the session’s waning days.

Still on hold: a 2012-13 budget fix. Once again, Senate Education took no action on House Bill 65, the bill that gives schools $30.6 million that had been allocated for Students Come First laws.

This bill has been on hold in committee for more than a month, leaving the money in limbo. Goedde, a co-sponsor of the bill, has said it will likely be amended.

Tuesday’s committee meeting ran past 3 p.m., past the time when senators were due to return to the floor. Mortimer moved to reschedule a bill hearing for Wednesday, saying HB 65 needs “a significant amount of discussion.”

Goedde, however, sent a mixed signal. Before honoring the committee’s student page, Goedde suggested Tuesday’s meeting “may be our last meeting,”

If HB 65 doesn’t pass, or if it remains on hold in committee, the $30.6 million will go into the public schools reserve fund, at districts’ expense.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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