A rewritten labor bill allowing school boards to change contract days or salaries cleared the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
Committee members voted along party lines to send Senate Bill 1040 to the full House with a recommendation it pass.
This version of the bill allows school boards to either increase or decrease teachers’ pay or alter the length of renewable contracts. Boards would be able to take those steps if the district and teachers’ association mutually agree to the moves — or if a district receives less salary money from the state than it pays out for salaries and benefits.
The Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators and Mackay School District Superintendent Karen Pyron backed the bill, while the Idaho Education Association opposed it.
Pyron said her district’s 16 teachers agreed to allow the board to cut their salaries by 5 percent as part of a two-year plan to shave $150,000 in expenses. Following the loss of federal Craig-Wyden funding for timber communities and years of budget cuts, Pyron said her district is unable to make ends meet.
Reducing staff sizes by declaring a financial emergency would be an even less attractive option than cutting all salaries equally, she said.
“There is really not a program to lose in these small schools,” Pyron said. “I can assure you reducing teacher salaries is the last thing we would do, the very last thing.”
Paul Stark, the IEA’s attorney, likened the bill to a “blank check” allowing school boards to reduce salaries or contracts without declaring a financial emergency.
“Repeatedly bringing (this) legislation adds to the feeling of despair and low morale for teachers in this state,” Stark said. “It is no wonder there is low morale in our teaching community.”
The first version of Senate Bill 1040 was introduced Jan. 30, but languished for nearly two months until the Senate Education Committee sent it out to be amended last week. The rewrite is known in Statehouse circles as “radiator capping” a bill — rebuilding an entire car, bumper to bumper and leaving only the radiator cap intact.
On March 28 senators amended the bill, rebuilding it to resemble the defeated Senate Bill 1148, before approving it 21-14 the next day.
Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, unsuccessfully attempted to kill the bill, and then joined the two other Democrats in voting against its passage.
The bill next heads to the House floor, the final hurdle before landing on Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.