Luna asks for his largest budget increase

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna asked Tuesday for a 6.9 percent increase in public school spending for 2015-16, a $94.4 million increase.

Luna Tech Award
Tom Luna

Luna submitted his proposed budget to Gov. Butch Otter, legislative leadership and the state’s Division of Financial Management. The 6.9 percent bump represents the largest increase Luna has sought as the state’s schools’ chief. For the 2007 budget year, he asked for a 6 percent increase.

This spring, the Legislature authorized a 5.1 percent increase in spending, the biggest bump since before the Great Recession.

The new budget is based around a second year of phasing in recommendations issued in 2013 by Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, and includes about $31.7 million in new money for teacher salaries and benefits.

“If we are serious about the (task force) recommendations, they are going to require more funding and also require serious changes in the way we (run) education,” Luna said.

The $31.7 million for salaries, benefits and compensation reflects about a 3 percent increase and would buy two additional days of professional development training for teachers.

But until a state subcommittee issues recommendations for how a career ladder plan would intersect with a proposed system of teacher certification and licensure, Luna and his staff said it would be too early to predict exactly how the spending increase will affect teachers’ paychecks.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, Luna vowed that his final budget request would be aggressive, not “a placeholder.”

“This is the amount of dollars that will be needed if we are going to continue to to make the progress we stated last year with the first year of implementing the task force recommendations,” Luna said. “It would be very easy just to take a pass on this budget, but we are going to run right though the finish line (of my term).”

While delivering his budget recommendation, Luna pledged to invite the winner of November’s superintendent election to immediately move into an office next to his – whether Democrat Jana Jones or fellow Republican Sherri Ybarra prevails.

Luna said he looks to start a new tradition, by inviting his successor to senior staff meetings and to delve into the budget for two months before officially taking office.

“I want this to be a very smooth transition,” Luna said. “I believe that’s what is best for kids – for the next superintendent not to necessarily agree with everything we said, but to be a part of the conversation leading up to (the legislative session), not walking up Jan. 1 at any disadvantage.

“I hope whoever it is, she will take us up on the offer.”

The budget request outlines a $1.46 billion plan for K-12 general fund spending. Without automatic increases for growth in student population and educators, the budget reflects a 5.8 percent increase.

The largest spending increases would go toward phasing in a career ladder system of teacher pay, increasing professional development training and phasing in a one-to-one technology devices program that would replace the technology pilot programs the state has funded for the past two years.

Highlights in Luna’s budget proposal include:

  • Earmarking $23.7 million for the career ladder system.
  • Continuing to fund $15.8 million in teacher leadership award premiums.
  • An increase in discretionary funding of $10 million.
  • $9 million in new technology spending to phase in a one-to-one mobile device environments.
  • Reauthorizing $2.4 million for WiFi in high schools.
  • $21.6 million for professional development funding for teachers.
  • More than $10 million to restore funds for maintenance and safe and drug-free schools.
  • Sending $4 million to school districts for content and curriculum materials, and switching this funding from a one-time authorization to ongoing.

Rob Winslow, the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ executive director, met with Luna earlier Tuesday on the budget, and praised the requested increase. He said increases of similar magnitudes will be necessary to implement task force recommendations.

But Winslow expressed concern that Luna isn’t doing enough to reverse recession-era cuts to districts’ operational funding – or discretionary spending pools.

Earlier this year, the Legislature spent $35 million to partially restore those cuts. Luna’s  proposed budget brings per classroom unit spending to $22,884.64 — well behind the $25,696 high point reached in 2008-09 before the recession took hold.

“Operations money is still the main priority,” Winslow said. “We have got to get enough money to run a district before we move on to a lot of improvements on reform efforts and the governor’s task force. We just have to be able to pay the bills.”

Luna’s budget request will now go to the Otter’s office for consideration. When the 2015 Legislature convenes Jan. 12, Otter will issue his own budget recommendation, setting the tone for the session. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will begin hearing individual budget requests before setting a FY 2016 budget that the Legislature would need to adopt.

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