The president of the Idaho State Board of Education said he’s not going to beg lawmakers for funding, but said the state must keep the cost of going to college low to keep Idahoans competitive in the global economy.
Board president Paul Agidius of Moscow said reducing the higher education budget could keep Idaho’s economy lagging. “We are crippling the very machine that does provide Idahoans the opportunity to become educated,” Agidius said. “Education is the one thing that can literally change a person’s life. Whether it’s learning a new skill because your job is eliminated or starting a career in the global marketplace.” The board of education faces a $35 million budget reduction in Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed budget. That’s 5.8 percent of its budget in the current fiscal year.
“I see an icy road ahead for us in terms of state funding, perhaps a lack of scholarship opportunities, especially for people who might need needs-based support,” said Rep Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.
Other lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) said colleges and universities need to look for savings and efficiencies wherever they can. Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, said many middle-class families have to take out loans to send children to colleges while some university staff, including several university presidents and deans, are earning more than Otter’s $115,348 yearly salary. “It’s a very disconcerting situation,” Bayer said. Undergraduate tuition at Idaho's four four-year universities and colleges have gone up an average of 5.6 percent a year over the past four years, according to the legislature's budget office.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, agreed that salaries for top university employees could be too high. “The board approved what I would call significant salary increases for board presidents,” Cameron said. “It seems to fly in the face of cuts to superintendents of public schools and teachers. It seems to fly in the face of our economic conditions.”
Agidius told lawmakers that they have to pay the market rate to keep university presidents in Idaho. “We are competing on a national market,” Agidius said. “The competition out there is very great. We have the choice of paying the market rate or going down and getting someone with a lesser degree of qualification.”
All university presidents will come before JFAC this week to present their budgets and plans for dealing with budget reductions.