Ybarra details collaborative approach behind her budget

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said the collaborative approach she took to developing her budget proposal is paying dividends.

On Thursday, Ybarra called for increasing public school funding by 7.5 percent next year, a $110 million increase.

Lawmakers and education leaders praised her presentation for its thoroughness and for reflecting the priorities of educators and school leaders.

On Monday, Ybarra sat down with Idaho Education News for an interview and said she developed her budget proposal over the past year, after meeting with education groups and Gov. Butch Otter’s office.

“It was a very long and very involved (process),” Ybarra said. “I wanted be very transparent in this process. I wanted no one to be surprised.”

Budget highlights

Two of Ybarra’s main priorities are restoring recession-era cuts to districts’ operations funding (a funding stream often referred to as discretionary spending) and increasing teacher salaries through funding the second year of the career ladder salary law.

Ybarra called for increasing per-classroom discretionary spending to $25,696, the amount reached in 2008-09 — before the Legislature imposed steep budget cuts and spending freezes.

Ybarra also proposed increasing net teacher pay by $56.4 million, a 5.6 percent increase.

“That was the two biggest requests from all the stakeholders that I heard: ‘Please support the discretionary funding and please support the second-year implementation of the career ladder,’” Ybarra said.

Ybarra’s and Otter’s proposal for operations funding and teacher pay are in alignment, and have drawn widespread support from education group leaders.

Questions over teacher evaluation accuracy

After her budget presentation, Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, asked Ybarra about the accuracy and validity of teacher evaluations.

On Thursday, Ybarra said it is “unacceptable and inappropriate” for districts to turn in inaccurate data. And During Monday’s interview, Ybarra said increased training could foster understanding, and improve the validity of the teacher evaluation system.

Idaho Education News broke the story on the inaccuracies in June, citing state records that showed that administrators from 32 school districts awarded every teacher an identical overall evaluation score. Superintendents from the New Plymouth and Sugar-Salem districts said they purposely and falsely awarded all of their teachers identical evaluation scores out of concerns for their staff’s privacy.

Last week, Ybarra proposed spending $700,400 for professional development training geared toward the teacher evaluations system in 2016-17, a $400,400 increase.

“There is no other profession in the state of Idaho that we collect data on professionals’ evaluations,” Ybarra said. “So that is kind of where a lot of the sensitivity comes from, it sends a really curious message about trust.

“When there is a lack of trust and then anger stems from that and hurt feelings, sometimes that’s a response you get,” Ybarra continued. “It explains it but it doesn’t excuse it. That’s where I said inaccuracies will not be tolerated.”