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Eye On Boise

Archive for January 8, 2013

Idaho teacher workforce OPE report: ‘Strong undercurrent of despair’

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee is meeting this afternoon, and has just released a new performance evaluation report entitled “Workforce Issues Affecting Public School Teachers.” Rakesh Mohan, director of the Office of Performance Evaluations, said, “In light of current interest in public education reform, I think you’ll find this report to be a good resource for all policy makers and educational stakeholders to inform their policy discussions.” He noted, “Not only we analyzed the data that was available to us … but we also surveyed all teachers, all superintendents and all public school principals. As a result, we had more than 2,800 responses that we analyzed in this report.” The State Department of Education and State Board of Education also participated.

The report found that Idaho’s average class size is 24 students to one teacher; though there are wide variations, the average didn’t vary by level, with an average of 23 in elementary school, 25 in junior high and 23 in high school. The average teacher salary in Idaho was found to be $43,000, but the report found that teachers in all sizes of school districts typically don’t top $40,000 a year until they’ve been teaching for at least 11 years; you can read the full report here.

Survey respondents reported concerns about increasing class sizes; 64.3 percent of superintendents surveyed said class size is a concern, as did 79.9 percent of principals. The report also identified “a strong undercurrent of despair” among teachers, who said they perceive a climate that “disparages their effort and belittles their contribution,” said OPE analyst Lance McCleve.

School officials reported trouble recruiting teachers, particularly for hard-to-fill positions including science, math and special education. Salary was cited overwhelmingly as the top barrier to recruitment; 76.2 percent of superintendents and 66.7 percent of principals pointed to salary. In addition, 81 percent of superintendents and 59.9 percent of principals said they’re concerned about their ability to retain their current teachers; even larger numbers said their teachers are taking on additional duties due to a loss of support staff.

The report suggested there may have been a reporting error in the figures collected by the State Department of Education about teacher departures over the last three years. “We conclude that a mass teacher exodus has not occurred, but that fears about such an exodus occurring in the future may not be totally unfounded,” the report said. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

State treasurer revamps expense accounting after audit

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane has revamped how he documents some of his office's expenses, after concerns raised by state auditors last year. A 2012 audit of Crane's office determined expenses from his annual bond-rating trips to New York, including limousine transportation, weren't properly reported. Auditors also questioned Crane's use of a state credit card to buy $8,000 in gas for his personal car, and his office's funding of a women's financial conference. In a report released Tuesday, auditors say Crane buttressed record-keeping for the New York trips, requiring employees to document specific expenses. He now tracks gas purchases, reimbursing Idaho for personal trips. And while auditors contend Crane is still inappropriately funding the women's conference, he has revamped its nonprofit board — to distance its leaders from the treasurer's office.

Former Rep. Bert Stevenson named to Idaho Water Resource Board

Former eight-term lawmakers and House Resources Committee Chairman Bert Stevenson was appointed to the Idaho Water Resource Board by Gov. Butch Otter today, along with Boise water attorney Al Barker. He also reappointed former Democratic state representative and Pocatello mayor Roger Chase and Vince Alberdi of Kimberly to new four-year terms on the board. “We’ve always been fortunate in Idaho to have a deep and talented pool of individuals ready and willing to continue Idaho’s tradition of actively and wisely managing the most important of all our natural resources – water,” Otter said in a statement. “Bert and Al are the latest to take on that mantle, and I’m confident their service will be consistent with the tradition of conscientious oversight that has been the hallmark of the Water Board.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Court hearing: Duncan targeted Spokane boy before settling on his Idaho victims

Before Joseph Duncan murdered a 9-year-old North Idaho boy in 2005, he set his sights on a Spokane child, posing as a prospective renter and touring a Spokane duplex with the boy’s mother while ogling the child. That news emerged in federal court in Boise this morning, where a judge is trying to determine if Duncan was mentally competent in 2008 when he waived all appeals of his triple death sentence. Among the evidence being presented is hours of interviews between Duncan and two FBI agents, in which he talked about his crimes, his reasons for waiving his appeals and more.

In the interviews, Duncan corrected the FBI agents about some things in their investigation that they’d gotten wrong, including concluding that he’d targeted a Spokane preschool music program as a possible target for his crimes, before settling on the Groene family in North Idaho to attack. Actually, Duncan said, his target in Spokane was a shirtless young boy who was adjusting a for-rent sign at a duplex down an alley from the site; Duncan said he posed as a prospective renter and toured the home with the child’s mother and the youngster. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Dems respond to State of the State

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Democrats are open to a $141 million personal property tax cut proposed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, provided there's something in it for local governments. The minority party Tuesday offered its annual response to Otter's State of the State speech, when the Republican governor announced he favored local option taxes to help replace money cities, counties and schools stand to lose from elimination of the tax on business equipment. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett said local governments must be shielded from cuts to critical services.House Minority Leader John Rusche said it's too early to declare a caucus position, adding his members want to be players in the debate. In addition, Democrats say they'll push again for an independent ethics panel, election reforms and help disabled veterans find jobs.

Click below for the House and Senate Democrats' full statement.

Digging into gov’s budget…

As members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee began digging through Gov. Butch Otter’s budget proposal this morning, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, questioned how Otter can say the budget is structurally balanced when it doesn’t address state employee pay that lags behind market rates and a backlog of deferred maintenance and infrastructure needs, including aging highway bridges.

Jani Revier, the governor’s new budget chief, told JFAC that the governor’s budget targets one-time funds to “critical replacement and capital needs,” including computers and cars. You can see her PowerPoint presentation here.

DFM staffer David Fulkerson said, “The governor is still committed to state employees, but we just didn’t get there this year on that item.” The governor’s chief economist, Derek Santos, said, “Our forecast … is based on the economy recovering gradually.”

Duncan back in Idaho court, Legislature off and running for session…

Condemned multiple murderer Joseph Duncan will be back in an Idaho federal courtroom today, for a retrospective competency hearing, to determine if he was mentally competent in November of 2008 when he waived his appeals. If he’s ruled competent, Duncan will go back to federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., to await execution. If not, more court proceedings would ensue – possibly including a replay of his whole death penalty sentencing trial. You can read my full story here from today’s Spokesman-Review.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Legislature is off and running for its session. JFAC is meeting this morning and will begin sorting through the governor’s proposed budget for next year. House and Senate Democrats will give their response to yesterday’s State of the State message at 10 a.m., and this afternoon at 4, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee will meet in the Capitol Auditorium and release a report on workforce issues affecting public school teachers in Idaho.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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