JFAC takes hands-on look at K-12 budget

Legislative budget writers made a quick stop at the Boise School District office Tuesday to look at how the new school budget is affecting Idaho’s second largest district.

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Don Coberly

Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members, their spouses and state budget analysts met with Superintendent Don Coberly and the district’s leadership team to crunch some numbers as part of JFAC’s spring interim tour.

“We are so grateful for what the Legislature did this year for schools, and we put the money you provided to us to great use,” said Coberly.

This session, JFAC led the Legislature in passing a 2014-15 budget that includes $66 million in additional funding for K-12 schools, a 5.1 percent increase.

Boise officials were able to use that money to offer raises to their staff, increase the minimum wage for certified staff members and all adults to $10 per hour, pump money into technology and discretionary spending and restore facilities and maintenance needs that had been put off since the onset of the recession. The new school budget may even allow the district cut in half the amount of money it will collect via a voter-approved supplemental levy.

Boise’s share of the Legislature’s partial restoration of cuts to discretionary spending totals about $3 million.

Although there was plenty of optimism to go around Tuesday, local schools suffered during the Great Recession. According to an analysis published by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, cuts to Idaho schools were the steepest in the nation.

Lawmakers only had time for a few questions, and asked school officials about their differentiated pay plans for awarding leadership bonuses and their experience with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium pilot tests.

Under the Legislature’s leadership premiums package, about 96 percent of teachers are expected to earn financial bonuses based on the district’s plan to increase students’ advanced placement coursework and have teachers write individual professional growth goals, Timberline Area Director Lisa Roberts told legislators.

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Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome

Coberly said the SBAC pilot tests “went great” because teachers administered the test in manageable 90-minute blocks instead of all in one long day. Still, Coberly and other leaders harbor concerns about the length of the tests and whether all high school students need to take the SBAC, especially because juniors already take the SAT college entrance exam.

JFAC co-chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said the school visit was especially valuable in helping committee members understand how state budgets affect local classrooms. But the Boise visit was far from the only school field trip JFAC members complete.

“We do this every time JFAC goes out on the road,” Bell said. “So it’s either Murtaugh or it’s Boise or it’s Pingree. It doesn’t matter where we go we always want to talk to the people with their boots on the ground.”

JFAC’s spring interim tour of the Treasure Valley wraps up Wednesday with a visit to the College of Western Idaho’s Nampa campus and a tour of the Micron Center for Professional-Technical Education.

On Monday, budget writers discussed state WiFi and broadband contracts.

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