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Posts tagged: school reform

Of ‘tenure,’ continuing contracts, and what would and wouldn’t change…

Before she proposed her four pieces of new legislation this afternoon, Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, said she thought the Idaho Education Association, the state’s teachers union, really only objected to two parts of the voter-rejected Proposition 1: Banning teachers from negotiating any issues other than salary or benefits, and “the protection of their tenure and continuing contracts.” She said, “The ISBA will not be bringing any legislation on those two issues.”

However, the bill she proposed today to repeal a law about teacher salaries dropping from one year to the next strikes at the heart of Idaho’s continuing contract law, the closest thing the state has to tenure for public school teachers. Under the law, which official state records show has been on the books in Idaho since at least 1963 before being briefly repealed by “Students Come First,” teachers with at least three years on the job who are granted continuing contract rights are eligible to have their contracts automatically renewed “for the same length as the term stated in the current contract and at a salary no lower than that specified therein, to which shall be added such increments as may be determined by the statutory or regulatory rights of such employee by reason of training or service.”

The law also requires that before a school district can decide to renew a teacher’s contract at a reduced salary due to performance issues, the teacher is entitled to a probationary period. Echeverria’s bill repeals that clause as well.

The new language on contract renewals for teachers with continuing contract rights, under the bill, would specify that automatically renewable contracts “may be renewed for a shorter term, longer term or the same length of term as stated in the current contract and at a greater, lesser or equal salary as that stated in the current contract.”

Durst: ‘I’m wondering how this improves teacher morale’

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, asked Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria about the recent Office of Performance Evaluations report that found a sense of “despair” among Idaho’s school teachers, and how the legislation she’s proposing to bring back parts of the “Students Come First” laws to limit teacher contract rights will affect that. After Echeverria described her association’s bill to repeal a state law that now prevents experienced teachers’ salaries from falling from one year to the next, Durst asked her, “I’m wondering how this improves teacher morale.”

“We certainly are not trying to defeat teacher morale,” Echeverria responded. “The school board members … really appreciate all the teachers that work in those districts. This is really about a management issue for the teachers, for those school board members.”

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, asked Echeverria, “Could you explain why you would run into problems if teachers’ salaries can’t be reduced, or why they need to be reduced from time to time?”

Echeverria responded, “This is about long-term, prudent fiscal management for the school district. … If a supplemental levy were to fail, those sorts of things, they may not have enough money to actually pay the teacher on the grid that they have at the local school district.”

Four bills introduced to reinstate parts of voter-rejected ‘Students Come First’ laws

Four new bills proposed by the Idaho School Boards Association were introduced on party-line votes this afternoon in the Senate Education Committee to roll back collective bargaining rights for Idaho teachers, echoing some of the provisions in the voter-repealed Proposition 1. On all four, the panel's two Democrats, Sens. Branden Durst and Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise, cast the only “no” votes. “They’re all toned-down parts of what we saw in Students Come First,” said Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who said he supports the measures.

The four bills would:

- Limit all teacher contract provisions to one year.

- Require local teachers unions to prove every year that they have the support of 50 percent plus one of the local teachers, before they’re allowed to bargain on their behalf, and require proof of ratification of contracts by both sides.

- Repeal a state law that now requires that experienced teachers' salaries not be reduced from one year to the next. The voter-repealed “Students Come First” laws repealed that law; the November referendum vote reinstated it. Under the new bill, teacher pay, contract length and terms could be adjusted up or down at the will of the local school board each year. This bill also would permit school districts to place teachers on leave without pay if a criminal order prevents them from fulfilling their contracts.

- Require courts to consider rulings from hearing examiners when they take up issues from teacher termination hearings.

All those provisions except the last two, on termination hearings and leave without pay, reinstate parts of the “Students Come First” laws. Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, said she’ll be introducing three more bills tomorrow in the House Education Committee.

Ed stakeholder group meeting today, you can watch live online

The governor’s Task Force for Improving Education is meeting today from 10-3, at the Yanke Family Research Park, Room 207, 202. E. Parkcenter Blvd. in Boise. The morning portion of the meeting is being streamed live here, though the afternoon work session won't be streamed; you can see the agenda here.

IEA releases ‘Education Excellence’ report from teachers on how to improve schools

The Idaho Education Association has released a report on its recommendations to improve public schools in Idaho, a year in the making from the IEA’s Education Excellence Task Force, which included a dozen top teachers from around the state. The recommendations range from making preschool universally available to low-income families in Idaho and moving to full-day kindergarten to an end to social promotion; from a streamlined dismissal process for underperforming teachers to a“state clearinghouse of quality online courses developed and taught by Idaho teachers.”

“We believe that there’s something here for everyone,” said IEA president Penni Cyr. “We understand that not all of these ideas may be immediately embraced, and we’re confident many other good ideas will come out of the (governor’s education stakeholder) task force, but we believe we’ve offered a useful framework for addressing the different areas of our school system where meaningful change is not only possible but could pay significant dividends for our children, our workforce, and our state.”

You can read the IEA’s full report here. IEA spokeswoman Whitney Rearick said, “Everybody’s asking us what are our ideas and thoughts. Now we’ve come out with it.”

‘Community Conversation’ set tomorrow night on future of Idaho’s schools

Boise State Public Radio is hosting a “Community Conversation  About the Future of Idaho’s Schools” Tuesday night at Salt Tears Noshery, 4714 W. State St. in Boise, starting at 6 tonight. Reporter Adam Cotterell and Morning Edition host Scott Graf will lead an informal community discussion; they’ll be joined by a panel including former state Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise; current House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle; and BSU College of Education Professor Jennifer Snow. The public is invited to the free event, but those who are attending are asked to RSVP; there’s more info here.

Stakeholder task force begins exploring education issues, panel’s scope…

At the first meeting today of the governor’s 31-member education stakeholders task force, members spent some time hearing about the fiscal impact on the current year’s budget of the failure of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, and the ongoing programs in school districts for which funds are left unallocated because of the measures’ failure; that includes adjustments in the “use it or lose it” funding provisions for school districts and funding for additional math and science teachers. However, some members thought the task force shouldn’t wade into the legislative debate over how to reallocate the fiscal year 2013 school budget.

At one point, task force Chairman Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member, said, “I guess I’m just a little puzzled. When everybody around the table agrees that these four or five budget items for 2013 oughta be funded, why the heck can’t we just say so?” The panel finally decided, in the words of facilitator Mike Rush, executive director of the office of the State Board, that “the message this committee is sending is not that they’re opposed to that. … We just don’t feel like it is in our purview.”

Another area determined to be outside the group’s purview: Labor issues, including those addressed in the voter-rejected Proposition 1 regarding rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights. “We’re not here to talk labor issues,” said Ken Edmunds, president of the State Board. He said, “The issue is educational improvement and what do we do about it.”

The group threw out ideas and filled up numerous big sheets of paper with suggestions ranging from “not one size fits all” to “teacher preparation.”

“We need consistent, ongoing professional development, not one-day workshops,” said Idaho Teacher of the Year Katie Pemberton, from Canfield Middle School in Coeur d’Alene. “I think we should ask the question of why high school graduates are not pursuing some form of post-secondary education,” said Mike Lanza, a Boise parent and co-chair of the successful campaign to defeat the propositions. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “There’s no differentiation between a really good teacher and one that’s just hanging on day by day. If we’re going to effectively use the dollars we’ve got, we’ve got to figure out a good way to differentiate between those teachers and how they’re compensated.” Said Laurie Boeckel of the Idaho PTA, “We need to define what equity is.”

Edmunds noted that Gov. Butch Otter included $33.9 million in his 2014 budget proposal for possible improvements agreed upon by the stakeholder group and legislators, though he also said he wasn’t seeking legislation this year, and instead would consider any major changes next year. Edmunds said of the $33.9 million, “This is a recommendation, and that’s where the politics start.” But, he said, “There’s so many ideas, so many things floating out there. … The nice part is somebody’s actually holding a carrot out there and saying you have the potential to affect approximately $33 million of the budget.”

The stakeholder group is scheduled to meet again Jan. 25 and Feb. 8.

Education stakeholders group holds first meeting today

Gov. Butch Otter’s education stakeholders’ group has its first meeting today, running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Yanke Family Research Park at 220 E. Parkcenter Blvd. The group has 31 members and is chaired by state Board of Education member Richard Westerburg. You can see today’s agenda and the full list of members online here. Today’s agenda is mostly about identifying and prioritizing issues; the panel also will hear a presentation on the fiscal impact of the repeal of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 from legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee; and an overview of education initiatives in Idaho from state board member Rod Lewis.

You can watch the meeting on a live video stream here.

Otter announces school improvement stakeholder group, no 2013 legislation

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he'll form a broad stakeholders' group to examine the best ways to improve Idaho's schools in the wake of the failure of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” reform plan, and said he's not looking for legislation in 2013. “I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators,” the governor said in a guest opinion distributed today to Idaho newspapers. “The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it.”

He added, “Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session.” Otter said he's asked the State Board of Education to head up the effort; his op-ed piece includes supportive comments from the IEA, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene, and state Board President Ken Edmunds. Click below to read the governor's full article.

“Men and women of good will can sometimes disagree passionately about the specifics of public policy, especially when it involves our children,” Otter writes. “But I’m confident we can broadly agree on the need for improving how we educate Idaho students, and I’m equally confident that the people of Idaho will rise to the occasion of this renewed opportunity for taking positive steps toward achieving our shared goals.”

Lawmakers urged to reconsider voter-rejected rollback in teacher collective bargaining rights

Idaho voters rejected a rollback in teachers’ collective bargaining rights in the November election, but the state’s school boards association is gearing up to try to put some of the same provisions right back into Idaho’s laws. “We really tried to focus on the things that the trustees felt were most important to them, and to leave the rest of it alone,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. “We hoped that the union would support at least parts of this – we know they won’t be able to support all of it.”

 Among the provisions the school boards group wants to revive: A June 10 deadline by which, if districts haven’t reached agreements with their local teachers unions, they can just impose contract terms unilaterally. At least 16 Idaho school districts did that this year; you can read my full story here at “It’s Proposition 1 right back up there again,” said Maria Greeley, a Boise school trustee who opposed the resolution at last month’s state school boards association conference. “I’m not saying that everything in it is bad. … The one piece that concerns me the most is that deadline, because it gives districts the opportunity to abuse the negotiation process. It doesn’t make them come in and do the tough work of working through it.”

Senator John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said of the voters’ rejection of Proposition 1 by 57 percent, “I guess you can interpret that any way you want. They rejected Prop 1 in totality. I don’t know that that means there aren’t parts of Prop 1 that they would not support.”  He said he expects legislation along the lines of the ISBA resolution to “move forward fairly early in the process” when lawmakers convene in January. “I think we will get lobbied very hard by members of the school boards association, locally elected trustees, to move that forward,” Goedde said. “And if locally elected trustees are supportive of that, I think it deserves a hearing and discussion.”

Of polls, private and public, and next steps on school reform…

Buoyed by the results of a private poll commissioned by Education Voters of Idaho, some backers of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws – including Gov. Butch Otter – are calling for reviving “parts and pieces” of the voter-rejected laws. But the leaders of the successful referendum campaign against the laws say they shouldn’t be the starting point for new school reform discussions. “We just had the ultimate poll,” said Mike Lanza, referring to the overwhelming rejection of the laws by voters on Nov. 6. You can read my full story here at

Lanza, Greeley applaud Otter, call for thoughtful, year-long approach to school reform

The co-chairs of the successful campaign to defeat Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, the “Students Come First” or Luna laws, today released a statement applauding Gov. Butch Otter for looking into forming a broad stakeholder task force to look into future school reforms, but urged against enacting any new reform laws in the upcoming legislative session. “It’s entirely feasible that this group could issue recommendations by the end of 2013, in time for the 2014 Legislature,” the two said in their two-page statement; you can read it here.

Lanza said, “Let’s go back to ground zero – we should not be talking about bringing back laws that were overwhelmingly rejected.” He and Greeley called for the 2013 Legislature to address school funding issues brought about by the laws’ repeal, to keep school districts “whole” in their funding for the current school year. “This money should go to the schools, and it shouldn’t be used for other agendas,” Lanza said. “The Legislature voted to allocate that money and they shouldn’t pull the plug on schools now. … This is budgetary housekeeping that the Legislature could do quickly.” Greeley said the state funds that this year’s school budget allocated for specific items under the reform laws should be turned over to local school districts. Said Lanza, “I think for the most part, those districts know exactly what they need it for.”

The two said they’ve had many conversations and meetings with others on all sides of the education reform issue since the election, including the governor’s office, and have felt a broad sense of agreement that future school reforms in Idaho should be aimed directly at improving student achievement. “We’re very encouraged by both the commitment of a lot of frankly influential people, and the caliber of ideas that they are bringing to the table,” Lanza said.

Last week, Gov. Butch Otter told an audience of 400 at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho convention that he’s looking into naming a 33-member stakeholder group, to be overseen by the State Board of Education, to examine school reform issues in the wake of the laws’ defeat.

State Board dumps ‘fractional ADA’ on 8-0 vote, after repealing online grad rule

After its 7-1 vote to repeal the requirement that every Idaho student take two online courses to graduate from high school, the State Board of Education today voted unanimously, with no discussion, to repeal its rules covering “fractional ADA,” a funding scheme that was part of Proposition 3 that automatically diverted state funds from school districts to online course providers, if students opted to take up to half their high school course load online, whether or not their districts approved.

That was part of the “Students Come First” reform plan's push for a new focus on online learning; it also included a failed proposal to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student, at a cost of more than $182 million over the next eight years. Unlike the online graduation requirement, the board had no choice on this matter; legally, once the “Students Come First” laws were repealed, the board's fractional ADA rules had to go, too. “Fractional ADA” refers to Average Daily Attendance, which is the basis on which school districts receive their state funding, as it's tied through a complex formula to the number of students; the law diverted a fraction of the school district's funding, depending on how many online courses a student chose to take, to the online course provider.

You can read my full story here at on today's state board action on Students Come First.

State Ed Board repeals online graduation requirement on 7-1 vote

It was Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna himself who made the motion at the state Board of Education this morning to repeal the rule requiring that every Idaho high school student take at least two online classes to graduate from high school. “Proposition 3 was overturned by the voters,” Luna said. “Overturning Proposition 3 in and of itself did not remove the two.” But, he said, “Because of the actions of the voters on Nov. 6th … the perception in the public definitely was that the language on the ballot itself made a reference to the online graduation requirement, and so I think it's proper that we remove that as part of the pending rule.”

His motion to repeal the rule passed on a 7-1 vote, with just board member Emma Atchley objecting.

“My biggest concern is that if we do not go forward with the online requirement, and we spend a year deciding whether we're going to have it or how we're going to have it, and we all end up wanting it in the end anyway, we've just lost another year,” she said. “I understand the political reality, but I think it's very important that we do not in the end say that we shouldn't have at least some online learning.”

Board member Rod Lewis said, “I hope that we do have the opportunity to talk further about this issue. If you really look at what's happening in post-secondary institutions and the change that is occurring there, I think it is going to be increasingly important that we have students at the end of the day know how to take classes online effectively. That will be an increasing component of their post-secondary education and our goal is to prepare students for that time.”

Board member Richard Westerberg said, “All that being said, and I agree with all of that, the vote was not equivocal. It was a pretty strong vote from the populace, and it was very specific the way it was listed on the ballot. … I think … we need to reaffirm what the voters told us.”

Board member Don Soltman agreed; he chaired the board's subcommittee that set the two-courses rule. “The committee of the board that looked at this looked solely at coming up with a number of online requirements,” he said. “Without exception, every hearing that we had across the state, the issue always came up of … opposition to the law itself. And as we addressed those publics when we met, we explained to them that the law was in place, that the charge of the committee was only to identify the number of courses required under the law. But I can say without hesitation, at every hearing there was opposition to the law expressed.”

Luna said a “different process” is needed on the issue. “I do believe we made the right decision today,” he said.


State board prez: Online grad requirement was ‘one size fits all approach’

Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls, president of the Idaho State Board of Education, said what the voters said last week “matters a great deal.” He said, “If people aren't satisfied with what we're doing, they're not going to support further change.”

The board will hold a special meeting Monday to vote on a series of rule changes, including possibly repealing the requirement that Idaho high school students take two online courses to graduate from high school; doing away with a funding scheme that automatically diverts school districts funds to online course providers if students opt to take courses online, with or without their school district's permission; and considering whether to reconsider rules regarding teacher and principal evaluations. Those follow voters' overwhelming rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, repealing the “Students Come First” school reform laws that lawmakers enacted in 2011.

During the campaign, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the author of the “Students Come First” laws, said repeatedly that the online graduation requirement wouldn't go away even if voters rejected Proposition 3, because it was in a state board rule.

Edmunds said, “I still believe that online education is part of the future. I am not certain that the two credits is necessarily the answer. It creates a one size fits all approach.” You can read my full story here at

‘Fractional ADA’ funding scheme diverting school funds to online providers also up for repeal Monday

There also are two other rule changes on the State Board of Education's agenda for Monday's special meeting that are a result of the rejection of the “Students Come First” laws by voters: One regarding “fractional ADA,” and another regarding teacher and principal evaluations. The agenda calls for fractional ADA to be repealed, while the evaluation issue may wait for input from stakeholders.

“Fractional ADA” refers to Average Daily Attendance, which is the basis on which school districts receive their state funding, as it's tied through a complex formula to the number of students. Under “fractional ADA,” which was repealed in Proposition 3 by voters last week, a portion of Idaho school districts' state funding is automatically diverted to an online course provider, if students or parents choose to take some of their courses online. The “Students Come First” laws allowed students to make that choice for up to half their high school course load, with or without the permission of their school district.

State Board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said that rule is legally required to be repealed, now that the state law authorizing the payments scheme has been repealed by voters. State Board Chairman Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls said, “That actually was the subject of discussion many times with superintendents and administrators and even with teachers, trying to understand what impact that had on them. It has a much deeper impact that I originally thought.” Said Edmunds, “The funding issues are very significant.”

The original “Students Come First” laws passed in 2011 allowed students to choose to take their entire high school course load online at state expenses under the fractional ADA formula; a 2012 revision cut that back to half their course load.

Otter reaches out to ‘Students Come First’ opponents, sets meeting with IEA leaders

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is reaching out to the opponents of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws, including the leaders of the Idaho Education Association; they've been invited to an initial meeting with the governor's staff tomorrow. “I can confirm there is going to be a meeting,” said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary. Otter won't be there himself, as he's attending a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas today through Thursday at which governors are discussing their options on health care reform in the wake of last week's election, but Otter will be represented at tomorrow's meeting by his senior special assistant on education, Roger Brown.

“This isn't about a specific bill or piece of legislation - it's about a conversation and developing a road map on how we can continue improving our education system,” Hanian said. “This will be the first formal meeting since the election. We started reaching out to them last week.” Hanian said the governor plans to reach out to all stakeholders on school improvement, after the overwhelming voter rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2 and 3. “The people spoke,” Hanian said, as far as those measures. “We need to continue discussion about improving our education system in the state.”

Luna pledges collaboration, opponents skeptical

Mike Lanza, chairman of the campaign that successfully overturned controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws, reacted with suspicion today to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's call for collaboration on new reform laws. “His entire track record is not one of collaboration, and we believe his credibility is what it is because of that,” Lanza said, noting that as the referendum campaign was gathering signatures, Luna and lawmakers added “clearly unnecessary” emergency clauses to the controversial laws. “He's not the person to lead this time. He should endorse a process that is run from outside of his department.”

Lanza said, “I would urge the Legislature and Superintendent Luna to refrain from trying to pass anything quickly this year, because if they do, I think they will again raise the ire of the public.” He said Idaho must “de-politicize this process and have it driven from the ground up. I'm talking about parents, teachers, administrators, members of school boards, business leaders, the very coalition of people that we've already begun to build. We believe that that's the way to really give credibility to this process and get buy-in from the public, not by having it driven by the superintendent whose plan has been discredited by the voters.”

Meanwhile, Luna, the first non-educator to head Idaho's public schools, said, “There's many good things that have come from these laws even though they were overturned - in the way we're looking at technology, the way we're looking at teacher evaluations, the way we're looking at parental input, the way we're looking at advanced opportunities for students. Those are all good things that came from this law, and those don't go away.” You can read my full story here at Also, click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller on Luna's determination to push for merit pay in 2013.

AG’s opinion: Teachers to get bonuses for last year as scheduled

Idaho school teachers who earned $38.8 million in merit-pay bonuses last year under the now-repealed “Students Come First” school reform laws still must be paid those bonuses for their work last school year, according to an Idaho Attorney General's opinion released today by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. “This is very good news,” Luna said. “I've been trying to do pay for performance since I was elected in '06.”

But Luna had raised questions about whether the repeal of the laws on Nov. 6 might stop the state's ability to make the payments for last year, which were scheduled to go out to school districts on Nov. 15. The legal opinion, signed by Deputy Attorney General Andrew J. Snook, found that the effective date of the repeal of the law is Nov. 21, when Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa will convene the board of canvassers to certify the election results, after which Gov. Butch Otter will issue a formal proclamation.   “Furthermore, the operative events that gave rise to teachers or administrators qualifying for Pay for Performance bonuses all occurred during the 2011-2012 school year,” the opinion said. Therefore, the law's provision that school districts can make the payments to teachers up to Dec. 15, 2012, still stands, as it's “merely  ministerial” acts that occur between last school year and that date to get the payments made.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected all three referenda on the Nov. 6 ballot regarding the “Students Come First” laws, repealing all three laws. Proposition 2 was the merit-pay bonus plan.

Idaho school reform combatants on both sides call for new start

Here's a link to my full day-after-the-election story at, on how after Idaho voters decisively rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws on Tuesday, leaders on both sides were calling today for a new start on education reforms in Idaho, with all the stakeholders at the table.

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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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