- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - State schools chief Tom Luna on Thursday trimmed his request to bolster Idaho’s public school teacher compensation but is still seeking $23 million - even though the governor’s budget proposal calls for no raises.

Luna offered the reduction to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. He initially sought an additional $42 million for teacher pay for fiscal year 2015, starting in July.

Luna, the state superintendent of public instruction, hopes his latest proposal meets with lawmaker appeal by finding middle ground with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

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Luna contends his revised plan would help Idaho as his agency embarks on an ambitious redesign of how educators are compensated that could cost $253 million while abandoning the existing system of paying teachers based on their duration of service. The strategy could take about six years to implement.

“I understand that more work needs to be done,” Luna told lawmakers. “This is a first step we can take, it’s a necessary step we can take.”

Luna’s plan for the $23 million foresees distributing $16 million in leadership award bonuses and another $7 million as part of a 1 percent base pay hike.

By contrast, Otter’s budget priorities - outlined during his State of the State speech - didn’t include a teacher pay hike. Instead, he focused on restoring so-called discretionary funding that Idaho’s 115 school districts can spend on paying insurance, utilities or other operations costs.

Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said the governor and his education aides will review the latest proposal from Luna to determine if it merits further consideration.

Budget writers responsible for prioritizing state spending now must strike a balance between the resources Otter says Idaho has and what Luna said is necessary in crafting an acceptable plan for schools.

Many legislators have already said they favor raising pay for 17,000 state workers - and that they aim to give the same treatment to teachers.

“If I have my way, yeah,” state Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who serves as co-chairman of the budget committee, said following Luna’s presentation.

In all, Luna is now recommending a 5.1 percent increase that would bring public education funding to $1.37 billion in the 2015 budget. That compares to about $1.31 billion during the current year.

Otter, meanwhile, has recommended a more austere 2.9 percent boost, to about $1.34 billion as part of what the Republican chief executive is calling just the start of a five-year plan to implement all or the bulk of recommendations by a task force that met last year.

With either proposal, Idaho state funding for its public schools would remain well shy of pre-recession levels, when spending topped out at a record $1.418 billion in fiscal year 2009.

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