Friday, April 5, 2013

Lawmakers head home after ed debate

Stennett concludes first session as Senate minority leader

Express Staff Writer

The Legislature ended its 88-day session Thursday with thanks, debate and even donuts, following what one senator called a “very difficult” few months.

The Senate on Thursday debated two education-related bills. Senate Bill 1200 concerned the public schools budget, and passed despite discussion from some senators who felt that the discretionary spending budget was too low and the cost of teacher benefits was too high.

The entire public schools budget rose 2 percent this year, with a total budget of $1.6 billion. The bill raises the minimum starting salary for teachers from $30,500 to $31,000 and increases discretionary funds while providing $21 million for achievement awards and professional development. It also appropriates $10.4 million for classroom technology and $6.5 million for facilities maintenance.

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said that the education budget was one of the hardest parts of the session, and that he still looked forward to recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force, which will meet this summer to discuss public education reforms and funding.

“This is a modest budget,” he said. “It’s not a perfect budget.”

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he could not vote for the budget because he believed that the rising cost of teacher benefits—more than 7 percent this year—was “unsustainable.” However, the bill passed 57-11-2, with Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, voting yes.

Stennett also seconded the motion to adjourn the 2013 session later in the morning, but not before thanking the Senate for a wonderful session. This was Stennett’s first as minority leader, and she said she enjoyed working with the majority party.

“It has been a wonderful experience for me, my first time in this position,” she told members of the Senate. “We thank you for a wonderful working relationship, and we wish you a wonderful rest of the year.”

Other members of the Senate also thanked each other for their work during what Senate Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rigby, called a “very difficult” session.

“You have conducted yourselves with dignity, with civility,” he said.

Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, presented Majority Leader Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, with a parting gift—four dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, spurred by Davis’ having mentioned once while giving a Capitol tour to a school group how much he liked them. 

The House adjourned slightly later than the Senate, finishing up debate on Senate Bill 1040a. The bill would let school districts cut teacher pay from one year to the next and make other changes to teacher contract law—proposals that Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said came mostly out of a proposition introduced by Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna last year but was struck down by voters in November.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said the bill would make it difficult for Idaho schools to attract good teachers, and Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, argued that she could not vote for a bill that Idaho voters had already struck down via referendum. The House passed the bill with a 47-21 vote in favor.

The House adjourned at 11:31 a.m., a little over half an hour after the Senate. 

Kate Wutz:

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