Ybarra calls for 7.5 percent boost in school funding

 

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra drew widespread praise Thursday for presenting a school budget request built around “our hopes and our dreams.”

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Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, right, delivers her budget pitch to lawmakers Thursday. Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Ed News.

As expected, Ybarra called for a 7.5 percent increase in public school funding for 2016-17. She outlined a nearly $1.58 billion spending plan to increase school funding by $110 million.

“It took all of us to get to this presentation today,” Ybarra said. “It’s a budget for our hopes and our dreams and, most importantly, to help Idaho students and schools achieve.”

Two of Ybarra’s biggest budget priorities are raising net teacher pay by $56.4 million (a 5.6 percent increase) through the career ladder salary package and returning per-classroom spending to pre-recession levels of $25,696.

Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr was pleased Ybarra focused her presentation on students and teachers. Cyr also applauded Ybarra’s priorities of increasing teacher pay and restoring cuts to operations funding.

“(Those proposals) align strongly with our membership’s needs,” Cyr said. “Those are two of our priorities, as is mentoring, which (Ybarra) hit upon as well. We have got to do a better job mentoring our educators and our professionals, and she hit on this as well.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Butch Otter called for increasing education funding by 7.9 percent, or about $116.6 million. Ybarra did not adjust her budget proposal upwards to match Otter’s.

Ybarra delivered her budget proposal in front of a standing-room only crowd at the Statehouse. State employees and education group leaders began arriving at 7 a.m. to claim a seat in the still-darkened hearing room, showing up a full hour before Ybarra began her presentation.

Ybarra devoted 52 minutes to walking budget-writers line-by-line through her proposal. She then answered questions from lawmakers for an additional 20 minutes.

In preparation for Thursday’s presentation, Ybarra said she devoted an entire year to developing the budget through a series of meetings with state officials, educators, education groups and taxpayers. She and the State Department of Education staff also developed a strategic plan, which Ybarra said helped guide her spending priorities.

Rob Winslow, the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ executive director, said Ybarra and her deputies used feedback from meetings with education groups to develop budget recommendations.

“Her budget certainly reflected a lot of the things we have been promoting for years,” Winslow said. “It is reflective of what the needs are out in the school districts.”

“My big takeaway was the clarity she brought,” Winslow continued. “She did a nice job of presenting the entire budget and now we know her priorities.”

Last year, lawmakers criticized Ybarra and pressed her for more details when she devoted just 17 minutes to a budget presentation covering the state’s largest general fund expense. Afterwards, Ybarra said she was handcuffed by a proposal developed by her predecessor, Tom Luna.

This year’s presentation was much more detailed — and received high marks from lawmakers and education leaders.

“It appears you did a very thorough job,” JFAC Co-Chairwoman Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, told Ybarra.

“I thought your presentation was very well done,” said Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom. “You and your staff should be complimented on that.”

“Your presentation was very well-planned,” said Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood.

“I thought she did a really nice job this morning,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association.

Even Ybarra appeared to acknowledge the differences between last year’s presentation and this one. “I have a lot to say this year,” Ybarra said playfully at the outset.

The budget numbers were no surprise, because Ybarra released a blueprint of the budget four months earlier.

Highlights include:

  • $98.1 million to fund salary increases under the second year of the career ladder and to move pupil services staff on the career ladder.
  • $15 million for technology, a $2 million increase.
  • $14.6 million for professional development training for teachers, a $1.3 million increase.
  • $5 million for literacy proficiency, money which could be used to reevaluate or replace the Idaho Reading Indicator test and for targeted interventions for students.
  • $3.1 million for student assessments, including the SAT and PSAT tests.
  • $2.2 million for wireless infrastructure.
  • $1.76 million for 12 new math coaches.
  • $1.75 million for academic and college and career advising.
  • $1.2 million to help launch a mastery-based system of education that would support pilot projects in 20 districts with planning, design and implementation of the system.

Further reading: Kevin Richert offers an analysis of Ybarra’s budget proposal and takes a closer look at her proposal for a rural schools center.