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Idaho Senate Approves Bill To Revamp School Finances

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Seeking to avert a protracted court battle, the Idaho Senate last week passed a bill to restructure the state school-finance system.

The plan, one of three proposals under consideration by lawmakers, was developed by a group of superintendents from school districts that are plaintiffs in a finance-equity lawsuit.

About half of Idaho's districts are suing the state, contending that it does not provide enough resources to support the "uniform and thorough'' system of public education required under the state constitution.

The superintendents' bill, as well as an alternative backed by Speaker of the House Michael K. Simpson, would "even the playing field,'' according to Sen. John D. Hansen, the chairman of the Senate education committee.

"Most everyone recognizes we're going to have to make some changes if we're going to resolve this litigation,'' Mr. Hansen observed.

The Senate-passed version of the superintendents' proposal would establish a statewide teacher-salary schedule for use in calculating aid to districts. The aid formula would include a base starting salary of $19,328, together with an index that factors in teachers' experience and educational backgrounds. But districts would not be required to pay that amount.

In addition, the bill would factor retirement and Social Security benefits into the formula.

As a result of the changes, lower-paying districts with lower staffing ratios would tend to gain state funding, while higher-paying districts with larger staffs would not.

Robbing Peter for Paul

The bill, which passed the Senate 27 to 9, now goes to the House, which is expected to vote on it this week.

About 90 percent of superintendents back the changes, according to Superintendent Bob Haley of the Meridian district.

"It helps equal out statewide the number of teachers in classrooms, therefore equalizing class sizes statewide,'' he said.

Also next week, the legislature is expected to approve a $620 million K-12 education appropriation for fiscal 1995, a $92 million increase over last year.

Even with the increased state aid, however, some districts may end up receiving less state funding under the superintendents' proposal.

The 11,300-student Idaho Falls District #91, for example, stands to lose approximately $1.3 million in state aid because its teacher salaries are higher than average, according to Superintendent T.C. Maddocks.

"While they're trying to bring Paul into the real world, they're robbing Peter to do it,'' he said.

Gov. Cecil D. Andrus, a Democrat, does not support any of the proposals currently under consideration in the Republican-majority legislature, according to Scott Peyron, a spokesman for the Governor.

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