Upon passage of the $26 billion education jobs bill, the Idaho Education Association (IEA) praised Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick for voting for the measure, and slammed Rep. Mike Simpson for opposing the bill. The IEA claimed at that time that the federal education money – which Idaho has since found out will amount to $51 million – would save 900 jobs in the state.
That means that as students return to school, 900 teachers or staffers who otherwise would have lost their jobs are also returning? Not exactly.
Sherri Wood, head of the IEA, explained that the number of jobs saved was based on a mathematical formula provided by the federal government. To determine the figure, Wood said, take the average salary of an Idaho teacher and use that amount to divide the total allocation of federal dollars for the state, which stands at $51 million. Do the math and it equals out to be 900 jobs saved with each teacher or staffer making about $56,000 annually.
But that kind of equation might be erroneous, given statistics of teacher pay in the state. According a 2009 Idaho Department of Labor wage survey, experienced teachers in the state average anywhere from $39,000 to $51,000 each year. Those figures also don’t account for the cost of teacher benefits, which can also be funded with federal education dollars.
School districts also weren’t planning mass layoffs to deal with budget shortages, either. As schools contemplated how to cope with the $128 million public education cut handed down by the Idaho Legislature, a myriad of tactics were used to save money. Some schools opted to cut transportation funding, while others chose to increase the fees required to participate in sporting activities. Others cut teacher and administrator pay across the board and some chose to nix field trips, school supply purchases, or move to a four-day school week. A report from the Idaho Statesman points out that because of the way in which the education budget was crafted by state lawmakers, schools were unable to eliminate teaching positions. If they did, they would have faced greater reductions in state funding.
There will be teacher losses in one form or another, says Wood. ”There are teachers who are retiring or leaving school districts who won’t be replaced,” Wood said. ”That will increase class sizes, particularly in rural parts of the state, and we think that’s bad for kids.” It is unknown how many open positions will be left unfilled across the state, but one of the larger districts, Boise School District, has eliminated 60 positions, via a combination of teachers, administrators, and support staff.
So where will the federal education money go, if not to save 900 jobs? Meridian School District, the largest in the state, will use $4.1 of its $5.9 million to restore unpaid teacher furlough days. Other districts will are taking different routes with the money. Nampa School District has yet to officially decide how to spend it, but one school board member says he would like to see the money saved for a year to prevent job losses in the 2011 school year if state tax revenues don’t ramp up. Boise, like Meridian, is considering replacing three unpaid furlough days set for the week of Thanksgiving. It is also may consider hiring back some of the 60 employees laid off.