Task Force sub group outlines plans

A subcommittee of the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education is preparing to recommend plans to restore funding cuts and revamp teacher pay.

The two plans could cost a combined $332.5 million over the next five years if they are implemented in full.

Members of the task force’s Effective Teachers and Leaders and Fiscal Stability subcommittees outlined the recommendations during a meeting Monday afternoon in Meridian.

Subcommittee members will present those recommendations when the entire task force meets at 9 a.m. Aug. 23 at the Hatch Ballroom on Boise State University’s campus.

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Supt. Linda Clark

Monday’s meeting of the subcommittees was the final scheduled small group meeting before the full task force gets together next Friday.

Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District – the state’s largest district – led discussions about calling for the return of funding cuts.

In state budget parlance, operations funding is often called discretionary spending.  For the 2008-09 budget year, discretionary spending peaked at $25,696 per support unit, or classroom.

This year, discretionary spending was set at $20,000 per support unit.

Sub committee members estimate it would cost $16.5 million a year over the next five years – for a total of $82.5 million – to restore funding to pre-recession levels.

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Sen. Dean Mortimer

“The number one recommendation of our committee will be to restore operations funding,” Clark said.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, an Idaho Falls Republican who pushed for a bigger increase in discretionary funding during this year’s legislative budget debates, said he was encouraged by news of the subcommittee’s talks.

Mortimer sits on both the Senate Education Committee and the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

“It’s a very important discussion – one that needed to occur more rigorously last year,” Mortimer said. “I’m excited they have recognized the importance of discretionary spending, particularly in light of what schools districts have had to pay out of discretionary over the last four or five years.”

Most of the rest of Monday’s meeting was devoted to a new teacher payment plan tied to the career ladder. The idea behind the new payment plan would be to increase salaries in a way that would benefit beginning and veteran teachers alike. Clark and other members of the group discussed a three-tiered $40,000-$50,000-$60,000 proposal that could be tied to teachers’ certifications and licenses.

For this year, the Legislature set the minimum teacher salary at $31,000, so starting educator pay could increase by $9,000 per year if the plan is adopted.

Clark asked for more detail about the cost and implementation model of the payment program to be submitted before the Aug. 23 meeting.

Idaho State Department of Education Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Hancock estimated a pay plan could cost $200 million to $250 million spread over five years, depending on how it is implemented.

Sub committee members also discussed recommending the state set aside $10 million annually for training and professional development tied to the Idaho Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests.

Hancock pointed out the 2013-14 budget now includes $12 million devoted to Idaho Core training.

“With a full restoration of operations funding and a full restoration of the salary schedule, I could provide (Idaho Core) training and we wouldn’t have to have all these line items (in the budget),” Clark said.

Check back with Idaho Education News for full coverage of the Aug. 23 task force meeting.