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Ybarra revises proposed teacher raises, after error found in budget

September 6, 2018

Sherri Ybarra

Idaho state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra is revising her school budget request for next year after discovering an error in the numbers that suggested she’d be able to raise teacher pay next year far more than the dollars she allocated would allow.

Ybarra had proposed adding $28.7 million to the $52.9 million already projected to be needed to fund the fifth year of Idaho’s teacher career ladder, a multi-year effort recommended by a governor’s task force to raise Idaho teacher pay. Initially, she said that would be enough to boost the base pay for Idaho’s most experienced teachers from the planned $50,000 next year to $58,000; and for starting teachers, from the planned $37,000 up to $40,000.

But it turned out that raises of that magnitude actually would have cost closer to $128 million more, rather than $28.7 million more.

In issuing the revision late Wednesday, Ybarra said in a news release, “I’m still excited to bring forward a proposal to do more than the career ladder, but I’m disappointed the $28.7 million won’t stretch as far as we had thought.”

Instead of the larger amounts Ybarra included in her budget proposal Tuesday, the $28.7 million figure actually would allow her to increase the base salary for Idaho’s most experienced teachers to $52,000 next year, and for starting teachers, to $37,200, according to her revised figures.

Ybarra’s office said in the release, “The proposed increases were recalculated after Associate Deputy Superintendent Tim Hill was notified of a discrepancy by Paul Headlee of Legislative Services this morning.”

Headlee heads the Legislative Budget Office, and until he was promoted to that position in 2017, he was the legislative budget analyst who handled the public school budget.

Hill said in the release, “I notified Superintendent Sherri Ybarra this morning that I discovered I had inadvertently underestimated the amount needed in the FY (fiscal year) ’20 budget request to reach the targeted funding levels recommended.”

Cindy Wilson, Ybarra’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said she thinks very highly of Hill, who has worked for three state superintendents and is a widely respected numbers expert. “He’s amazing,” she said. “But I did learn something new today. I would again say that this budget is neither new nor bold.”

She added, “I learned something else today, that Idaho spends around $208 million on salaries over what is allocated to districts in the budget.” Wilson said she got the figure from Hill, and it’s for last year, reflecting the amount districts spend on salaries from sources other than the state general fund budget.

Wilson said she believes too many districts are being forced to rely on supplemental levies, or voter-approved temporary local property tax increases, which she called “so not supplemental and so wrong.”

“This is not a needs-based budget,” Wilson said. “It’s like celebrating that we’re on the 15-yard line on our own side, when we have 85 more yards to go.”

Ybarra’s revision on Wednesday doesn’t change any of the figures in her budget proposal; it still represents a 6.8 percent, $122 million increase in state funding for Idaho’s K-12 public schools next year.

But to fund the kind of raises to teacher salaries that she initially wanted would have cost much more. “That’s the discrepancy, it’s $100 million,” Headlee said late Wednesday. “It’s a big workforce.”

Ybarra said, “I appreciate Tim letting me know immediately so we could accurately reflect the pay raise I’m proposing.”

On Tuesday, Ybarra said she’d proposed the higher raises for teachers to match “the original intent of the task force recommendations.”

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