Luna tweaks education budget

Schools chief Tom Luna on Thursday called for a $66.9 million spending increase for K-12 public schools next year.

His budget request – a slightly revised version of the original budget he unveiled in Meridian on Oct. 1 – includes almost $1.4 billion in state spending, representing a 5.1 percent increase from 2013-14.

On Jan. 6, Gov. Butch Otter called for a $37.4 million spending increase for schools, a 2.9 percent increase.

TLuna, break, square, 1.23.14hat leaves a $29.5 million gap between the two proposals.

New since October, Luna is now proposing a 1 percent salary increase for teachers. Siding with Otter, Luna wants to spend $35 million to restore districts’ operational funding, up from $16.5 million.

Luna based his budget on recommendations from Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, estimating it will cost up to $400 million to implement the plans over about five years.

“Going forward, if we are to accomplish the implementation of the task force recommendations over the next five years it will require this kind of funding increase in each of those years going forward,” Luna said.

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Budget highlights include:

  • A 1 percent increase in salary-based apportionment for teachers, and a 2 percent increase for administrators and classified staff. The estimated cost is $10.9 million, including benefits.
  • Spending $16 million on teacher leadership bonuses, a partial implementation of a career ladder plan the task force recommended in August.
  • Directing $35 million to begin the multiyear process of restoring $82.5 million in recession-era cuts to operational funding.
  • Providing $12.2 million in ongoing funding for professional development; including allowing districts to share $8 million of that money to buy professional development days.
  • Earmarking $3 million for advanced opportunities for students to take postsecondary courses while still in high school. That’s down from the $5.6 million for dual credit programs and advanced opportunities for high school students, under the original budget Luna submitted in October.
  • Spending $13.4 million on technology, unchanged from 2013-14. The breaks down as $8 million that will be distributed to school districts and charters, $2.25 million for wireless internet in high schools and $3 million that could be available for another round of technology pilot grants.
  • Providing districts and schools with $2.2 million for school safety and security.

During the hearing, teacher salaries and benefits played a large role in the discussion.

Although JFAC co-chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he will push for raises for teachers if state employees receive raises, he remains cautious about pumping more money into the existing salary grid and rolling out the career ladder piece by piece.

“I hear lots of support in this building and outside this building amongst teachers, superintendents and others for a career ladder concept,” Cameron said. “All of us admit the current system is not adequate to reward and retain our best teachers. Why not wait to roll out the leadership (bonus) component with the entire proposal on career ladder?”

The career ladder is on hold while a committee researches the tiered licensure plans that would decide whether teachers fall within the system.

Luna said the leadership bonuses provide more money for teachers now — and he said he cannot support a budget that reduces the amount of money available for teacher pay.

Teacher pay constitutes a big difference between Luna’s budget proposal and Otter’s proposal. Otter’s budget freezes teacher pay, proposing neither a pay raise nor leadership bonuses.

The two also differ of projected enrollment growth. Otter’s budget estimates growth at 41 classroom units this year, while Luna forecast 82 more classrooms. The difference amounts to about $3.4 million. Both would spend $22,424 per classroom, up from $20,000 for 2013-14.

Using Otter’s budget as a guide, the public school budget is projected to account for 47 percent of the state’s budget.

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