For nearly half the teachers in the Nampa School District, a planned 14-day furlough aimed at balancing the budget will be more like a paid vacation.
They'll get the days off and won't lose a dime in wages.
That's because the Nampa district is following the state's policy that no teacher can make less than the minimum salary for beginning instructors. In Nampa, that is $31,750; the state's figure is $31,000.
Nampa says it is following the advice of attorneys and applying the policy to its district minimum.
District administrators say that 27 percent of teachers in the district earn Nampa's beginning salary and won't be affected by furloughs. And that number will only grow as the district fills vacancies.
Nampa has lost 14 percent of its certified teaching staff so far for next year: 119 instructors out of 830 are leaving, and more could go. That is up from about 80 who left before the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. A total of 151 faculty and staff are leaving the district, some through retirement.
Administrators believe that many departing teachers will be replaced by those at the low end of the salary scale, said Allison Westfall, district spokeswoman. Those teachers also wouldn't feel the financial pinch of a furlough.
Many of those leaving say they are battle-weary from the district's strained finances, which created a $5.1 million deficit and a requirement that the district cut $3.5 million from the 2013-2014 school-year budget.
The furloughs are expected to save the district nearly $2 million, but the pay disparity is just one more reason the district's plan to idle teachers is a bad one, said Mandy Simpson, president of the Nampa teachers union.
If lower-paid teachers lose income to furloughs, "we could have people standing in line for food stamps," she said. But cutting only some people's pay could be divisive, Simpson said.
Furloughs could bring some resentment from higher-paid teachers, acknowledges Pete Koehler, interim superintendent. "We have to pull together and make the system whole again and make it work," he said.
Simpson and the Nampa Education Association opposed furloughs as teacher-contract negotiations began in the spring. The union's first offer was for no furlough days and a 1.67 percent pay increase. Eventually teachers said they would take 12 days of furlough and drop the pay demand. The district essentially has not changed its position on 14 furlough days.
With nearly 85 percent of the district's money going to wages and benefits, administrators have said it would be impossible to balance the budget without staff reductions.
Simpson said the district should look for money elsewhere, such as the district supply budget or not using $500,000 to rebuild the district's zeroed-out reserve fund.
Digging into the fund for classroom supplies is open for discussion, Koehler said.
He's less interested in diverting the money intended for the district's reserve fund, which is intended to be a cushion against the kind of budget mistakes that plunged the district into its financial problem.
Trustees agreed to continue negotiations with teachers later this month, but issued teacher contracts to meet a July 1 state deadline. That contract included the district's last offer, with the 14 days of furlough.
As Nampa slogs through its problems, some teachers are looking for a place to work that doesn't carry all of the district's baggage.
Shannon Hotchkiss, a music teacher at Ronald Reagan Elementary School, resigned and will go to work in the Meridian School District next year with about a 25 percent increase in pay.
Hotchkiss sat on the committee created by former interim superintendent Tom Michaelson to help sort through Nampa's financial problems. She became concerned when the committee adopted a proposal - later blocked by the board - to do away with about half the district's elementary music and physical eduction teachers and counselors.
She realized that her position could be among the first to go under such cuts, and that drove her to find other work.
"I took it as a red flag," she said.
Every time a qualified teacher leaves the district, it hurts, Koehler said. "We've worked very hard not to have to pink-slip anybody," he said.
But Koehler expects he'll find replacements for most of the departing teachers - although finding special education teachers is more of a challenge because it is a specialty.
Mostly, Koehler said, he wants to get Nampa School District's financial instability behind him. By next year, the district could be on its way to healing from woes that have beleaguered the state's third-largest school district.
Nampa has built an austere budget, Koehler said, and "there should not be any surprises in it."
Meridian School Board trustees say they decided to reconsider their no-negotiation stance they invoked with the teachers union last week so they can continue communications and collaboration.
"Refusing to talk to them would have been counter to that," said Linda Clark, district superintendent.
"We are excited to return to the negotiating table," said Luke Franklin, Meridian Education Association president. "Our next move is to wait for the district to contact our negotiating team."
Trustees had declared an impasse July 1, stopped talking to union representatives and sent contracts off to teachers in a move that infuriated district educators. It promised teachers more pay for time on the job and a bonus for teachers who are topped out on the pay scale.
On Tuesday, the board took a half-step back, agreeing to continue talks - but only about issues that don't have a price tag.
District officials say there is no money to put into higher salaries or other budget items.
Trustees shifted their position after Franklin said shutting down the talks left a number of issues on the table that did not have a financial cost. Those topics could include grievance procedures and association rights.
"(If) it is not a cost item and not going to affect our bottom line, we can look at these things," said Mike Vuittonet, board chairman.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts