Idaho coronavirus response, 5.12.20: SDE plans webinar to address budget holdbacks

State Department of Education finance officials will offer new guidance this week to local school leaders who are preparing to implement $99 million in statewide K-12 budget cuts.

The SDE will offer a 90-minute webinar at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time Thursday. The webinar will be an expansion of the regular weekly webinars that schools chief Sherri Ybarra and her staff have used to provide local school administrators with updates and resources throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Thursday’s webinar will also include a remote installment of the traditional post-legislative roadshow.

The webinar will include:

  • 2021 budget guidance.
  • An overview of 2020’s major education bills.
  • An update on new changes and data requirements set to hit the books July 1.

The webinar will also include an opportunity for local school leaders to ask SDE officials questions, spokeswoman Kris Rodine said.

The webinar is the first major outreach to local schools after Gov. Brad Little sent superintendents guidance for cutting 5 percent, or almost $99 million from the 2020-21 budget. The budget year doesn’t begin until July 1, and legislators approved a 4.6 percent funding increase compared to the current budget. That means overall budget levels could be similar to this year.

The cuts themselves were not a surprise. The Division of Financial Management sent out a memo March 27 asking state agencies to prepare for holdbacks of up to 5 percent, said Greg Wilson, Little’s chief education adviser.

Then, in April, Ybarra told school leaders to prepare for 5 percent cuts.

Little made it official Friday, releasing a memo to district leaders that provided guidance for cutting $99 million during the upcoming year.

The cuts call for freezing teachers on the salary career ladder, keeping them at their 2019-20 pay level. The cuts also suspended the leadership premium financial bonuses for one year, cut discretionary spending by 3 percent, or $21.1 million, and reduced technology and IT funding by a combined $14 million and more.

Debbie Critchfield

“The coronavirus pandemic upended our current school year and has required us to think about state-wide reductions,” State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said. “There has been a great deal of outreach about how to make the least painful cuts. No one wants to be in this position, but districts need this information as soon as possible so they can plan and prepare their budgets for fall.”

There is already some pushback to cuts. The presidents of 60 local education associations signed open letters to school districts encouraging them to approve budgets that will ensure “stable, supportive, safe and healthy schools for our students.”

“Now is not the time to hit the panic button and start slashing education budgets,” the letter signed by local education unions said.

In the budget memo, Little said the 5 percent cuts were applied across-the-board to all state agencies, not just public schools.

Little said he would issue an executive order shortly after the new fiscal year begins July 1 to officially reduce spending.

The SDE’s webinar is scheduled to include deputy superintendent for communications Marilyn Whitney, associate deputy superintendent for public school finance Tim Hill and chief technology officer Chris Campbell. Ybarra is a member of the State Board of Education, which previously announced a retreat scheduled for Thursday. It was not immediately clear if the retreat would be finished before the webinar.

Little looks ahead to stage two

Although he won’t announce his decision until Thursday, Little said the state may be poised to move to the second stage of the Idaho Rebounds reopening plan Saturday.

“We believe we’re on a path to go into stage two but it would be presumptuous to say absolutely until we saw the numbers,” Little said.

Little will make the announcement about stage two during a 1 p.m. news conference Thursday. Under stage two “gatherings, both public and private, of less than 10 people, where appropriate physical distancing and precautionary measures are observed, can occur.”

That’s the specific criteria State Board members cited when they adopted the criteria for opening and closing schools amid the pandemic.

Under stage two, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and hair salons would be able to reopen once restaurants have submitted their plans to public health officials for approval and once the other businesses have met the state protocol.

Check back with Idaho Education News Thursday for full coverage of the SDE webinar and Little’s news conference.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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