Pocatello-Chubbuck educators call for improved K-12 funding

POCATELLO — Educators in the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District say they’re grateful for big boosts in state K-12 funding in recent years.

They also say they’re going to need more.

Pocatello-Chubbuck superintendent Douglas Howell talks school finance during a pre-legislative session with lawmakers.

Leaders from across the district met Tuesday with lawmakers during a pre-legislative work session to discuss educational outcomes and future needs. Topics ranged from professional development to textbook adoption, but school funding emerged as the focal point.

“The last two years have been much brighter,” said Pocatello-Chubbuck business director Bart Reed, before pointing to what he called a “very disturbing” financial trend in the district: a steadily increasing reliance on local funds.

Since 2007, Pocatello-Chubbuck’s supplemental levy has climbed from $5 million to $9.2 million — money designed to backfill budgets for staffing, salaries or employee benefits. At least 60 percent of local voters have approved the district’s supplemental levy every two years since 2010, but Reed expressed fears that such support could languish.

“There’s no guarantee,” he said.

Idaho’s increasing statewide reliance on local funds creates a landscape of winners and losers, said Pocatello-Chubbuck director of employee services Carl Smart. He pointed to gaps in local market values, which enable some districts to tap into much more substantial tax bases.

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These disparities in local funding often add up to inequity in services, Smart said, including higher teacher-student ratios in some districts.

“Right now, the equal playing field that’s often talked about is not happening,” Smart told lawmakers.

(Click here to see how Idaho’s controversial 2006 tax overhaul triggered a spike in supplemental levies across the state.)

But despite calls for more equitable funding, the state has cranked-up overall K-12 spending — by nearly $100 million from 2016 and more than $300 million from 2015.

Administrators acknowledged that the extra money has helped, pointing again to the district’s supplemental levy, which trustees have voted to hold steady at $9.2 million since 2015.

Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, attended Tuesday’s meeting and acknowledge local funding disparities as an important issue ahead of the 2018 legislative session.

Still, he reiterated across-the-board funding increases, including three straight years of teacher raises under the career ladder.

“I don’t know if there’s a one-size-fits-all,” Manwaring said, “but education continues to be a No. 1 issue in the state, and we’re putting a lot more money back into it to get back to where we were before.”

Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, and Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, also attended the meeting. Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, listened in via conference call.

Here’s a list of other topics discussed Tuesday:

  • Special education
  • Classified staffing
  • Healthcare premiums
  • Professional development
  • Literacy
  • College-and-career advising

Pocatello-Chubbuck is East Idaho’s biggest district, with 12,430 kids enrolled in 2016-17.

Idaho’s 2018 Legislature is slated to convene Jan. 8.

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