Friday, April 3, 2009

School district set to weather funding cuts

Blaine administrators do not plan to cut teacher salaries

Express Staff Writer

Mike Chatterton

The Blaine County School District anticipates losing about $500,000 in state funding next fiscal year but does not plan to cut staff or reduce teacher salaries.

"Only if we're forced, will we do that," said Mike Chatterton, school district business manager.

Though the $500,000 in lost funding will affect the school district's budget, Chatterton said it will have "minimal impact." The funds represent less than 1 percent of the district's general fund budget, which for fiscal year 2009 was about $57 million.

Furthermore, the district is in a better position to absorb lost state funds because only about 30 percent of its budget comes from the state. Many Idaho school districts are funded by the state at nearly 95 percent.

The precise amount of state funding that will be lost is still unknown as the Legislature finalizes a budget package that will have to be signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

The latest funding cut proposal was ironed out Friday by the Idaho State Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, often referred to as JFAC.

The committee settled on a $69 million cut to state education, moderately higher than the $62 million recommended by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, but lower than the $109 million proposed by Otter.

The JFAC recommendation would cut the amount that the state reimburses school districts for teacher salaries by 2.6 percent and the amount it reimburses administrator salaries by 5 percent. JFAC further recommended reducing reimbursement for transportation costs from the current 85 percent to 50 percent.

"We haven't discussed yet how were going to absorb the costs," Chatterton said. "We'll be better off than most school districts. If they'll let districts absorb that through their normal budgeting processes it won't be too bad, but if they start dictating, that's where the rub is."

Chatterton said earlier discussions in the Legislature considered reducing contract workdays for teachers from 190 to 187, a situation that would likely lead to renegotiations across the state with school districts and their teachers unions.

Chatterton said that if state educational funding cuts continue, there will be a loss of teaching staff throughout the state, which would result in higher student-to-teacher ratios.

The Blaine County School District has a certified teaching staff ratio of about one teacher to between 18 and 20 students, while many districts have ratios closer to 1 to 30.

"I can see it going elsewhere from 1 to 33 or so," he said.

"The district is not worried about what effect it will have on Blaine County," Chatterton said in January, when educational funding cuts were first proposed. "The district is worried about what effect it will have on education in the state of Idaho."

Terry Smith:

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