Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Elimination of schools funding looms

Rep. Ken Roberts to defend bill in Hailey meeting

Express Staff Writer

As the prospect of lost funding looms ever closer, the Blaine County School District has scheduled a meeting with the sponsor of state legislation that would eliminate the district's main funding source.

Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, will speak about the proposal today, March 9, at 6 p.m. at the Community Campus in Hailey. The discussion will be a public meeting between Roberts and the district trustees.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said Roberts would defend his bill.

"He'll tell you it's the principle of the thing, that people should have to vote [on levies]," Jaquet said.

Currently, the district collects $29.5 million, more than 60 percent of its operating budget, through a permanent annual levy on county property taxes. The legislation would require the district to ask for voter approval of the levy every two years.

The argument for the bill is that voters in Blaine County should be allowed to choose to pay this supplemental levy. However, school officials have said that holding an election on the levy every two years would create uncertainty and even chaos in the school's budgeting process.

The House overwhelmingly voted to pass the bill on to the Senate on Monday following a brief period of debate. The final vote was 53 in favor and 14 against, with three abstentions.

Jaquet said the Senate is likely to be in favor of the levy elimination.

"If it gets out of the Senate committee, it will pass the Senate floor," she predicted.

The first part of state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's education reform bills passed the House on Tuesday. Forty-eight representatives voted in favor of limiting the negotiating power of teachers' unions and eliminating the possibility of tenure for all new teachers. The bill would also allow school districts to lay off teachers as late as October if school enrollment drops.

Nine Republicans joined 13 Democrats in voting against it.

"It was mean-spirited," said Jaquet, who voted against the bill. "We've already had two anti-union bills this session, and this is just another."

Jaquet said she believes Luna was politically motivated to write the bill as a way to "get back" at the Idaho Education Association for recruiting someone to run against him in the 2010 election.

"You have to leave politics and move to policy once you're elected," Jaquet said.

The bill was also passed by the Senate and is awaiting Gov. Butch Otter's signature.

The second of Luna's reform bills is set to go up for debate in the full House at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The bill proposes a pay-for-performance system that was meant to be funded by the third bill, being held indefinitely in a Senate committee.

Katherine Wutz:

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