Ybarra presents school budget

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Local school administrators are hopeful about the state education budget proposed to lawmakers last week.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra presented the 2017-18 public school budget proposal — with a 6.7 percent spending increase of $105.6 million over last year’s spending — to members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

The draft budget emphasizes increasing teacher pay and bringing more money into classrooms.

“Of course, increasing resources for our students, staff and schools is welcomed and very much appreciated,” said Matt Handelman, superintendent of the Coeur d’Alene School District. “Planned-for increases to teacher pay through the career ladder is a great thing, especially for attracting teachers to Idaho.”

Ybarra’s proposed budget, which totals $1.69 billion, includes a $58 million increase in teacher salaries through the Career Ladder, an $8 million increase in technology funding, a $903,000 increase in funding for schools’ Wi-Fi systems and a $300,000 earmark for training administrators on teacher evaluations.

Gov. Butch Otter is calling for a 6.4 percent increase of $101.4 million over current spending for public schools next year.

“It is good to see that Gov. Otter and the state superintendent have very similar budget proposals,” said Jerry Keane, superintendent of the Post falls School District. “They both have requested that the third year of the Career Ladder be funded. We are always supportive of efforts to reward our staff for their hard work and dedication.”

Keane added he was pleased to see Ybarra requested an increase in operational funds for Idaho school districts, noting his district has been operating on the same amount of state funding as it received in 2008. He said that funding would help his district pay for health insurance costs, electric bills, technology infrastructure and building maintenance.

Lisa Sexton, the assistant superintendent of the Lakeland School District, said she wasn’t surprised by Ybarra’s budget proposal.

She emphasized how important it is for the Legislature to continue funding the Career Ladder. Sexton said the Lakeland School District subsidized an average of $13,000 for salaries per teacher each year to make up what the state can’t provide.

“Until the Legislature fully funds the Career Ladder, the taxpayers have to participate in that,” she said.

Handelman echoed her concerns.

“Despite the increase [in funding for the Career Ladder], we know that the high end of the Career Ladder is still not in line with the Governor's Task Force recommendations, so retaining great teachers may still be a challenge until that is fully funded, for which there are no plans from the Legislature,” he wrote in an email to the Press.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will continue to hear agency budget proposal presentations for the next two weeks and then deliberate and create its own budget, taking into consideration all the proposals the committee heard.

JFAC’s budget will then go to the Idaho House of Representatives and Senate for a vote.

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