Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, explained in detail the process of setting the next Idaho public schools budget as part of his presentation to the Senate Education Committee Wednesday afternoon. Cameron is one of the leaders of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which set the public schools budget Wednesday. That budget includes a $128 million, 7.5 percent spending reduction.
During the meeting, Cameron said that the Senate could vote on the education budget soon. "We could see this bill on the Senate floor in a week to 10 days, maybe even sooner,” he said. Cameron said the entire education budget, including the spending plan for administrators, teachers, and programs, as well as the budget instructions, including the financial emergency provision, will be combined into a single bill that would only need one vote. “In looking at the overall reductions and the overall impact, we felt like it was easier on staff … and the whole budgeting process if we run it out as one bill. Candidly, it all fits together as one piece.” Cameron said he hasn't seen a public schools budget fail in the House or Senate in 20 years, but that if this one does, it would prolong the legislative session.
Lucy Willits, chief of staff for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, says Luna supports the budget. "The superintendent would like to see the budget passed as is," she told lawmakers.
Idaho Education Association Sherri Wood said she felt betrayed by the statewide financial emergency provision, and that her group, representing teachers, no longer supports the schools budget. She also said the working group of education leaders didn't discuss all possibilities with the budget. “Several decisions were made before we got to the table,” she said. Those included additional money for schools, as well as salary reductions for teachers and school staff, and the plan to freeze the grid for staff raises. “The group was called together for one reason, and that was to find the best, or more accurately the least painful, way to fit the needs of our public schools into a pre-determined appropriation,” Wood said.
Cameron responded that the working group only had two meetings to work on the schools budget, so they focused on certain areas, including finding more money for schools. "We had a limited amount of time, so discussing revenue enhancements would be an exercise in futility," he said.
IdahoReporter.com has video of Cameron's explanation of the schools budget process, split into two parts.