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Eye On Boise

Luna’s office: No big-bucks hires for reforms, just staff shift, promotion

Though rumors are rife that the Idaho state Department of Education has added highly-paid staffers to implement the new "Students Come First" school reform plan, Luci Willits, chief of staff for state schools Supt. Tom Luna, says it's not true. "We're doing what we're asking school districts to do, which is to do things differently" with existing funding, Willits said. "At this point we haven't hired anyone new. All we've done is repurposed positions." She added, "Everyone's job at the department will be changing under Students Come First."

Two positions already are changing: Deputy Superintendent Mary Beth Flachbart has been assigned to oversee the implementation of the reforms, which include shifting teacher salary funds to technology investments, implementing a teacher merit-pay bonus program, and phasing in a program to provide one laptop computer or other computing device for every Idaho high school student. Flachbart, who oversees federal programs, special education, Title 1 and school improvement efforts, will continue to be a deputy superintendent; her salary of $89,315 a year (before furloughs) won't change because of the new assignment.

Camille Wells, a program specialist at the department for communication and governmental affairs, will be promoted to a "coordinator" position in which she'll work full-time on Students Come First, Willits said. That will move her up a pay grade; her new salary hasn't been set, but it will rise from the current $34,507 a year (before furloughs) to at least $44,034 a year in the new pay grade. Willits noted that the reform plan is phased over several years. "Some things happen now, some in the future," she said.

Luna's Department of Education budget for next year will see a 10.5 percent boost in state general funds, but that's in part because a federal grant ended to fund the state's student longitudinal data system and the state is having to pick up those costs, including six positions. The department's budget in total funds will be up 2.8 percent. "We had a 3.5 percent cut overall in the department if you look separately from the longitudinal data system," Willits said. That system, to track student achievement, was a requirement of receiving federal stimulus funds; Idaho was the last state to implement one. "Those longitudinal data funds can't be used to fund something else," she said. According to state budget documents, the number of authorized full-time positions at the department will rise from 130 this year to 133 next year; three positions were eliminated due to budget cuts.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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