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Posts tagged: Tom Luna

Luna aide heads to South Dakota legislature, will earn more than state’s guv

Jason Hancock, a top aide to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, is headed to South Dakota, where he’ll start Aug. 5 as the director of that state’s legislative research council. Hancock worked closely with Luna on his signature “Students Come First” package of school reform laws, which voters rejected in 2012; prior to joining Luna’s staff, he worked as a budget and policy analyst for the Idaho Legislature. The Associated Press in Pierre, S.D. reports that Hancock will make $125,000 a year in his new job – more than the state’s governor, who makes $104,002. The South Dakota Legislature’s executive board told the AP it raised the salary for the position to draw a strong candidate and strengthen the legislative branch. Hancock holds a master’s degree in public administration from BSU and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of the Pacific.

Luna announces tech grants to 15 schools, says statewide effort still needed on school tech

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today announced the 15 schools throughout the state that will receive a share of $3 million in technology grants for pilot projects next year, but noted that 99 schools applied for the grants, and if they’d all gotten what they sought, the total would have been more than $26 million; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.  “I think the answer has to be a statewide effort, and I think you have to tap into the economy of scale in order to make this available for all,” Luna said. “I think what we’ve demonstrated through the pilots is that there is a demand for one-to-one environments … in the classroom.”

Many, but not all, of the successful grant applicants plan to use the money to provide every student with a high-tech device, whether it’s a Chromebook, an iPad, a laptop computer or a combination of school-provided and bring-your-own devices. Luna’s signature “Students Come First” plan, which voters rejected in 2012, sought in part to provide every high school teacher and student in the state with a laptop computer.

Luna noted that the technology already has changed significantly since he made his proposal. “I still believe that there has to be a statewide solution, or we just create winners and losers,” he said. But he said that could take a variety of forms, from providing more per-student funding to school districts for technology to offering several state-level contracts that districts could access at their option to take advantage of economies of scale. “This demand is not going to go away, whether I’m here or anyone else is here,” said Luna, who is leaving office when his second term ends at the end of the year.

A roomful of excited school officials from throughout the state was at the State Department of Education offices today to receive the grant awards. They range from a high of $516,619 for South Middle School in Nampa, which will use the money to purchase computers, Apple TVs, projectors, I-Pads for every teacher, video technology for classrooms, and to open school two to three nights a week to allow parents and students at the large, largely low-income school to come in and work online with a teacher’s help; to a low of $14,825, for Meridian Technical Charter High School, to offer 25 students with difficulties associated with the autism spectrum access to brain games on iPads designed to enhance their learning.

Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, said her school will use its $250,000 grant to “gamefy” learning by allowing students to work individually and earn digital badges when they move up to higher levels; the gaming will revolve around the Idaho Core Standards and include reading, writing and math, with options both for those who struggle and for advanced learners. The project includes Chromebooks and accessories. “We’re just thrilled to pieces,” Baker said. “We know that we have to do something different for kids.”

Forrest M. Bird Charter School in Sandpoint is getting $317,516, and will provide a laptop computer for every student and teacher, grades 6-12, iPads for special education classes, projection presentation systems and training. Mary Jensen, education leader at the school, said, “We’re just really excited for being able to innovate in our classrooms through the use of technology.”

Cascade Junior-Senior High School will use its $38,094 grant to integrate school-provided Chromebooks with students’ bring-your-own devices to bridge the “digital divide” between its lower and higher income students. Fruitland Elementary School will expand a pilot project that used iPads in second-grade classrooms school-wide, with its $345,230 grant. Lapwai Middle-High School’s $32,986 grant will provide a high-tech projection system in every classroom to turn regular white boards into interactive learning surfaces. Mullan Trail Elementary’s $204,465 grant will install and enhance WiFi and network infrastructure, purchase Chromebooks, tablets, management systems and accessories, to turn the elementary school into a “Google School,” where allow students and teachers can use apps to interact as they work on documents. Click below for a full list of the grant recipients.

Goedde: Luna can now be more ‘forceful’ pushing for task force plan

Idaho Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he would have supported state schools Supt. Tom Luna for re-election, but he understands Luna’s decision not to seek a third term. “I agree that certainly his efforts so far this legislative session have been characterized as an attempt to enhance his re-electability,” Goedde said.  Now, Goedde said, “I think the superintendent is in a position that he can be more forceful in trying to see those (education task force) recommendations move forward.”

Luna has served two terms as state superintendent, the first non-educator ever to be elected to the post; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. He said he has no particular plans for after he leaves office. “I’ve got a business I can go back to,” he said. “I’m not making this decision today because I know what I’m going to do 11 months from now.”

 

Luna won’t seek re-election

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna will not seek a third term, he announced this morning, saying he wants to take politics out of the process of putting into effect bipartisan school reforms recommended by a state task force. “I know it’s the right decision for me, for my family, and I know it’s the right decision for the children of Idaho,” Luna said. “I’ve never avoided a fight. I’ve always done what I thought was right.”

Luna was joined for his announcement by House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, along with House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, all Republicans, along with Luna’s wife Cindy.

Two other Republican candidates, Randy Jensen of American Falls and John Eynon of Cottonwood, already have announced their candidacies in the GOP primary for superintendent; Democrat Jana Jones, whom Luna narrowly defeated in 2006, also is running for superintendent. Luna said he’s not yet endorsing anyone for the post. “I will tell you that the person I will support is the person who stands up and boldly proclaims their support for all 20 recommendations of the task force and their commitment to get them implemented,” he said.

Luna said, “I’m going to be working hard for the next 11 months, not being distracted with a campaign and everything that goes into that.” He said it was “obvious to me that bipartisan support is fragile,” and people might think anything he does to support the task force recommendations is meant to “give me a leg up in the election. … So I wanted to take that off the table.” He said, “You won't see me on a ballot anywhere in Idaho in this upcoming election.”

Jensen launches campaign, supt’s race starts getting crowded…

Randy Jensen formally announced his candidacy for state Superintendent of Schools today as a Republican; from the state Capitol steps, the longtime middle school principal and former Fulbright scholar said, “I will make decisions based solely on what’s best for kids in Idaho. … Now is the time to have a proven educational leader lead our schools.”

The race is getting crowded; also this week, Cottonwood teacher John Eynon, an outspoken opponent of Common Core standards for student achievement, announced his candidacy in the GOP race. Jana Jones, a Democrat whom current GOP Superintendent Tom Luna narrowly defeated in 2006, is running again. Luna himself hasn’t yet announced whether he’ll seek a third term.

Jensen, 52, has been the principal at William Thomas Middle School for 25 years, after starting there as a teacher. “After 29 years … I still love kids as much as I did the first day,” he said. He introduced one of his former 5th grade students who’s now a Boise dentist.

Jensen holds a master’s and bachelor’s degrees in education from Idaho State University and certification to serve as a school district superintendent. Asked the main thing he’d like to accomplish if elected, he said, “I want the state Department of Education to be a service organization, where we really work closely with local school districts to make them the best they can be. Great schools are not created by federal or state mandates. Great schools are created at the local level.”

Luna: Do endowment investment strategies short-change current students?

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna says he believes the state’s distribution and investment strategy for endowment funds is short-changing current public school students by focusing too much on future students. “Every year … we have 3,000 to 4,000 more students that we’re serving with that distribution,” he said. But the distribution has remained frozen at $31 million a year for five years, but for a one-time, extra $22 million distribution in 2010. “I think we need to take a hard look at if we’re sacrificing the benefit of the current beneficiary in the need to protect the future beneficiary,” Luna told the Land Board this morning. “We’ve accumulated a lot of cash and then our fund balances have increased … but the policies we have in place still haven’t resulted in the current beneficiaries seeing an increase. So I think they’re a bit out of whack.”

Luna noted that the state’s permanent endowment fund is invested 70 percent into volatile equities, and 30 percent into more secure bond funds. He said that’s appropriate for long-term funds, but said the earnings reserve funds, from which distributions are made, shouldn’t have the same split – they should be more secure, to guarantee distributions to schools and other endowment beneficiaries. Larry Johnson, endowment fund investment manager, responded, “I don’t think it would make much difference, because we’ve looked at this before. … We’ll certainly have an opportunity to look at it again.” He added, “We’re permanently intending to have reserves and a significant amount of reserves.”

The state is in the midst of an analysis of its investment strategies; Johnson said he’ll have results from that for the board in February.

With 11 school tech pilot projects just getting under way, lawmakers faced with decision on whether to fund more

Eleven Idaho schools are only a few months into their technology pilot projects, funded by a $3 million appropriation from the Legislature this year, but lawmakers will soon have to decide whether to put more money into such projects. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert writes today that lawmakers will have some anecdotal evidence from the field when they arrive for their session in January, but test results may be scarce. Nevertheless, state Superintendent of Schools is requesting another $3 million. You can read Richert’s full report here, which includes an update on the projects around the state.

Luna says Idaho students’ performance on ‘Nation’s Report Card’ gives preview of new core standards

Idaho 4th graders scored very slightly below average in reading and math, but the state's 8th graders scored slightly above average in both, according to results from the Nation's Report Card, an every-other-year assessment that compares student achievement between states. Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna hailed the results, saying they show the impact of the state's efforts to focus on those areas. “I applaud Idaho’s eighth grade students for continuing to outpace their peers across the nation in reading and mathematics,” Luna said. “It is clear our investments in the Idaho Reading and Math Initiatives and the hard work of Idaho’s teachers are paying dividends to help in better preparing Idaho students for higher levels of reading and mathematics, especially when compared to their peers across the country.”

Luna said the report card also provides a preview of how Idaho students are faring compared to the more rigorous Idaho Core Standards, which the state adopted in 2011 but won't test students on until 2015. The results suggest that just 30 to 40 percent of Idaho students will be performing on grade level in reading and math, as measured under the higher standards.  “It is not because our students woke up one day and were not as smart as they were the day before,” Luna said in a statement. “It is because our students are working to meet a higher bar, learning at a higher level, and that is a good thing for every child and for their future.”

Luna has been defending Idaho's new standards against a growing chorus of political dissent; he said the higher standards will ensure that Idaho high school grads are prepared for college or the workplace. “We have had standards in place since 2002,” he said. “Each time we raise academic standards, Idaho teachers make sure students meet the goals we have set for them, and we know we will see the same success as we implement the new Idaho Core Standards.” Click below for Luna's full announcement.

PERSI change drops Luna’s proposed school budget hike from 5.9% to 5.4%

State Schools Supt. Tom Luna’s proposed 5.9 percent budget increase for public schools next year has dropped to 5.4 percent, Clark Corbin of Idaho EdNews reports, but not because Luna’s changed what he’s asking for. Instead, a recent decision by the PERSI board to hold off on a scheduled rate increase, due to strong earnings in the pension fund, changed the overall numbers. The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho covers state and local government employees, school district employees and more; PERSI is among benefit costs built into calculations for all state agency budgets.

Tim Hill, deputy superintendent for public school finance, told Corbin the PERSI change made a $7.2 million difference in the public school budget calculations. Now, Luna’s proposed increase for next year comes in at $69.9 million, down from the previous $77 million; you can read Corbin’s full report here.

Luna wants 5.9% increase for schools next year, to start phasing in task force reforms

State school Superintendent Tom Luna told the Meridian Chamber of Commerce today that he endorses “every one” of the 20 recommendations of an education stakeholders task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, and has built his budget request for public schools for next year to match them – including a request for a 5.9 percent, $77 million increase in state general funds. “Taken together they will fundamentally transform our education system in Idaho for the better,” Luna said. “They’re all important.”

Luna said he agrees with Otter that the reforms will cost between $350 million and $400 million a year in new money, and that they must be phased in over several years. “While this budget only addresses one fiscal year, I believe it sets us up for a fiscally sound structure for funding the task force recommendations over multiple years,” he said.

Luna’s budget proposal calls for spending $42 million next year for the first phase of a new teacher career ladder, a proposal that will cost $250 million over six years and eventually boost Idaho’s starting teacher pay to $40,000, a third higher than it is now. The plan also would establish a new three-tiered professional licensing system for teachers, with the second tier eventually starting at $50,000 a year, and the top tier at $60,000. The proposal for next year, he said, is “a major step in transforming the way we pay Idaho’s teachers so as a state we can attract great teachers and retain the ones that we already have.”

Luna’s proposal also includes $13.4 million for school technology next year; $5.64 million for new opportunities for high school juniors and seniors to take advanced courses; and $16.5 million for the first installment of restoring $82.5 million in operating funds that have been cut from Idaho’s schools during the state’s economic downturn. The task force suggested phasing in the restoration over five years.

Luna’s budget request totals $1.3779 billion in state general funds, up from this year’s $1.3008 billion figure.  He told the crowd of 80-plus at the Meridian Chamber luncheon that he wants input on the proposal, from everyone – parents, teachers, business people, and more, and is open to making changes. He noted that the Legislature won’t convene for three months, and then it’ll debate for another three. He called his proposal “the beginning of a conversation.”

After his talk, Luna said he’s had “a very positive reception” from legislators, education stakeholders and others to his plan, which anticipates a substantial funding increase for schools not only next year, but likely each year for the next six. Luna said that's what it would take to accomplish the task force's plan. “I think that people are really focused on finding a way to make these recommendations a reality.”

Public comment sought on school rule changes, from cursive instruction to PE as grad requirement

The Idaho State Board of Education is taking public comments on six proposed rule changes, on everything from requiring Idaho school kids to get cursive writing instruction to adding two credits of PE as a high school graduation requirement. Idaho Education News has a rundown here on the rule changes and how to comment; there’s a public hearing set for Oct. 8, and the state board is scheduled to consider the rules at its November meeting. Comments will be accepted through the end of October.

All six rule changes were proposed by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; you can read his office’s summary here of the changes and public comment opportunities. In addition to cursive and PE, the rules address ISAT testing, an adjustment to math and science requirements, teacher education and endorsements, and an in-service math training requirement for teachers.

Land Board votes down Luna’s proposal to raise school payout, 4-1

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted 4-1 to keep the endowment distribution for public schools next year at $31.3 million, the same level as this year, with only state Schools Superintendent Tom Luna objecting; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Luna made an impassioned plea to raise the payout for schools to $37 million, saying the number of students has risen but the endowment distribution has been frozen at the $31 million level for the past four years.

Larry Johnson, investment manager for the Endowment Fund Investment Board, presented a detailed analysis of Luna’s proposal, and said the endowment board still recommends sticking with the $31 million figure, to keep growing reserves in the school fund toward the goal of covering five years of payments, in order to weather ups and downs in land and fund investments in the future. He said the endowment board makes distribution decisions based on the financial condition of the fund - not on the beneficiaries' requests.

Luna offered a compromise proposal to boost the payment to schools next year to $34 million, saying that way, the reserve fund wouldn’t fall – it would grow by $3 million, and remain at 3.9 years of payments. Gov. Butch Otter seconded Luna’s motion “out of respect” so it didn’t die for lack of a second, but voted against it.

Luna presented charts and tables showing that the reserve fund has grown by 900 percent since 2001, while the payout to schools has dropped 30 percent from that year's level. But Johnson told the board, “In '01 and '02, we were distributing more than the assets could support, so at some point there had to be reductions.”

Gov. Otter said, “I can’t discuss this in a vacuum, without considering our goal and … our confidence in sort of our safety level, and that’s at five years. So as quick as I can get that to five years, then I can be a lot more generous.” He told Luna, “But I want to tell you I really appreciate the efforts that you and your department have put into it, because it is impressive. And maybe it does beg for change, but not exception.”

After voting down Luna’s substitute motion, the board approved the investment board recommendation with just Luna objecting, but at Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s urging, it added two additional provisions, which Luna backed: It called on the investment board to complete a review of its investment and distribution strategy for the endowments, including the five-year target for the reserves; and it asked state Lands Director Tom Schultz to conduct a similar review for the lands portion of the state endowment, including reviewing strategies such as moving into commercial property investments in addition to the traditional timber and grazing land.

Land Board to take up school endowment distribution this morning…

The state Land Board is meeting this morning; a major agenda item is the distribution from the state endowment for public schools next year. Last month, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna pushed to increase the distribution by $5.6 million above the recommendation of the state’s Endowment Investment Board. His motion died for lack of a second, but the board then agreed to send Luna’s proposal to the endowment board for review, and reconsider the issue this morning.

The endowment board is proposing holding schools at $31 million, the same distribution as the past four years, to help reserves in the school fund built up toward targeted levels. Since the Land Board in 2010, at Luna’s urging, voted to give schools a one-time additional $22 million distribution, the reserve fund for the schools hasn’t met the goal of holding five years worth of payments; it’s now just over three years and dropped to two years after the 2010 extra payment.

The endowment board this morning is again recommending sticking with the $31 million distribution to schools for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, 2014.

Luna: ‘Stark reality’ is Idaho K-12 students meet standards, but fail at higher ed - because standards are too low

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna told the Legislature’s K-12 interim committee this morning that there’s a “stark reality” about education in Idaho: The state has a “very high graduation rate, one of the highest in the country,” but one of the lowest percentages of students that go on to further education after high school. “And then we see that of those that do go on, almost half of them have to take remedial courses … 38 percent of them do not go on to their second year.” As a result, fewer than 40 percent of Idaho adults have some sort of degree or certificate beyond high school. “That’s in a world where 60 percent of jobs require some form of post-secondary degree or certificate.”

Luna said Idaho students are showing strong results in meeting state standards while they’re still in K-12 schools, but the data for what happens after that shows the standards aren’t high enough. “That’s why Idaho is moving forward with higher academic standards for all students … this school year.” He called the move to the new Idaho Core Standards “a necessary and critical change in Idaho’s education system.”

He went on to highlight Idaho's efforts in recent years to transform how it tracks student progress through a longitudinal data system, saying, “We want an education system that is based on results. In order to accomplish that, we must have high-quality data.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Luna asks for more time to craft school budget request to match task force recommendations

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has asked for more time to prepare the 2014-15 public schools budget request so he can build it around an education reform task force’s recommendations, Idaho Education News reports. While state agencies typically submit budget requests around Sept. 1, Luna submitted only a placeholder “statutory budget” on Sept. 3, IdahoEdNews reporter Clark Corbin writes, and asked for an extra 30 days to submit a formal budget request “so I will be able to submit a budget that is relevant to the Task Force’s recommendations.” The request was granted by Otter’s budget chief, Jani Revier, and Idaho legislative services director Jeff Youtz. You can read Corbin’s full report here.

Luna’s spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, told Idaho EdNews, “Superintendent Luna will be working closely with all stakeholders as well as the staff at the State Department of Education on developing a budget request that addresses the recommendations of the Task Force.” The stakeholders task force, appointed by Otter and coordinated by the State Board of Education, gave near-unanimous approval to a sweeping set of proposals last month, from boosting Idaho teachers’ pay to advancing students to the next grade only when they’ve mastered the material.

Even after downward adjustment, ENA price still higher than low bidders

Idaho Education News has a report this afternoon noting that even after the downward adjustment in the price tag for the controversial statewide high school WiFi contract (see my story here), the cost is still higher than the low bid submitted by a different firm, Tek-Hut Inc. of Twin Falls; you can read their full report here. Tek-Hut bid $1.65 million a year for the contract; Education Networks of America’s successful bid was $2.11 million a year, which now, due to an agreement to charge only for schools ENA actually connects, will drop next year to about $1.89 million. Another bid, from ID Consulting, which unlike Tek-Hut didn’t make the short list of three finalists for the contract, came in at $1.86 million a year.

Retired purchasing agent: ‘They’ve totally changed the terms of the contract’

Scott Sherman, a retired purchasing agent from Idaho Falls, has been raising questions for weeks about Idaho’s controversial high school WiFi contract with Education Networks of America; last Friday, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna replied to several questions Sherman had emailed him, including one about the fixed-price nature of the contract. In the Aug. 27 email, Luna defended that approach, writing, “The RFP was written intentionally with a fixed bid price component for two reasons: 1) to meet the language set forth in Senate Bill 1200 passed by the Idaho Legislature, and 2) to ensure the vendor assumed the risk involved, not the state.”

Sherman disputed that, saying, “It was totally inappropriate for a fixed-price contract, because they didn’t know how many users there were going to be.” Rather than shifting the risk to the vendor, he said, the approach shifted the risk to the state, by saying it would pay full-fare regardless of participation. That, in turn, gave vendors an incentive to up their price to protect themselves against the uncertainty. “They just about ate the whole budget up to protect themselves,” he said.

When Luna sent his Aug. 27 response to Sherman, the superintendent already knew that ENA had made a unilateral concession in an Aug. 6 letter, agreeing to bill the state only for actual work done at Idaho schools, not for the full contract amount, but he didn’t mention that; the state accepted the offer in an Aug. 22 letter. His spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said in an email today that the contract has not changed. “The original contract remains in the place,” she wrote. “These letters clarify the billing process and additional questions that were raised in initial meetings with ENA.”

Sherman, who has long been retired but was a purchasing agent with the atomic energy division of Philips Petroleum when the company was the main contractor at the Idaho National Laboratory, said, “In my mind what they’ve done is totally changed the terms of the contract. It’s gone from a fixed price – which given the kinds of things they were asking the potential suppliers to do was ridiculous – to a cost-plus contract.” He said, “That entirely changes how the others would have responded.” Nine companies bid on the contract; ENA was among three finalists, along with two Idaho companies. “I would think that the other suppliers or bidders would have every right to come back and say, people, what have you got?” he said. “You’ve just given these people a million bucks under totally different circumstances.”

Idaho alters school WiFi deal under pressure from lawmakers

Under pressure from state lawmakers, Idaho’s State Department of Education and Education Networks of America have agreed to a change in their statewide high school WiFi deal: ENA will be paid only for the schools it actually connects, rather than a flat fee for all eligible schools whether they participate or not.  hat could lower the price for the contract’s first year from $2.11 million to $1.89 million, but key lawmakers say they still have questions about the deal.

“To me, it made no sense being charged the same whether one school signed up or every school signed up,” said Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. But, he said, “The concessions didn’t necessarily satisfy all my concerns. Whether the concessions they’ve made will be palatable enough for the Legislature to appropriate funds again is the real issue.”

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna signed the five- to 15-year contract with Nashville, Tenn.-based ENA in July, based on a one-time appropriation from the Legislature of $2.25 million for the upcoming school year. But the contract runs for five years, with options to renew for up to 15 years. It includes a clause that if lawmakers don’t budget money in future years, the contract will end. But it also says the contractor – ENA – owns all the equipment it installs, including miles of cabling to be installed in every Idaho high school to provide wireless networks, and if the contract ends, it must remove everything it’s installed.

Goedde said the cabling issue is another one that concerns him. “I have no problem with them pulling out devices,” he said. “Devices age quickly, and what they install today, in two years will probably be outdated. But I do have an issue with the cable.” An insurance agent, Goedde said, “Any time anybody installs something in a building, it becomes a part of the building.” ENA offered only a partial concession on the cabling, saying it would renounce its ownership rights after the first full five-year term; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Political fireworks fly at Land Board over school endowment distribution

Political fireworks flew at the state Land Board this morning, as, for the second time in five years, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna sought to increase the endowment distribution to public schools beyond the recommendation of the Endowment Fund Investment Board. The board is recommending fiscal year 2015 distribution increases to seven of the eight endowments, but not to the largest – public schools – instead holding schools at the $31 million distribution level it’s been held at for several years. The reason: Since the 2010 board decision to give schools a one-time additional $22 million distribution, the reserve fund for the schools hasn’t met the goal of five years worth of payments; it’s now just over three years, and dropped to two years after the 2010 extra payment.

But Luna said the recommendation means departing from the board’s policy of distributing 5 percent of the three-year rolling average of the endowment to the schools each year, and would drop schools next year to about a 4 percent distribution.  Aside from the $22 million one-time boost, schools have been held at the $31 million level for five years now, Luna said, even as the number of public school students has grown by 15,000.

“We’ve never had to reduce the balance of the reserve in order to meet distributions,” Luna argued. “And we just went through the worst recession that I think we’ve seen. And now we see a recovery. So I would argue that we should distribute the 5 percent of the rolling three-year average, per our policy. We still increase the amount in reserve in the years going forward. … It would mean an increase in the distribution of about $5.6 million.”

Luna said school districts are suffering now. “I guess what concerns me is that while we’re building our reserve, school districts are depleting theirs, and … many of them have no reserves left at all. They literally go from state distribution to state distribution.”

Luna made a motion to grant the increase, but it died for lack of a second. Gov. Butch Otter said he just heard Luna’s proposal last night. “I’d like to see us delay it at least until the September board meeting,” he said. Luna responded, “I did sent you a letter Friday – I know you were putting out fires.” (You can read Luna's letter here, obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law.)

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “A number of years ago we addressed this issue, and really, it was part of a political ambush that was unleashed on the Land Board. And at that time my view was that we needed to send this matter to the Endowment Fund Investment Board for their analysis and report back to us.” Wasden said for the Land Board to exercise its fiduciary duty to the endowment, as required by the state Constitution, it’s incumbent on the board to get the investment board’s input before making such a decision.

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa recalled “the way we agonized over the $22 million,” and noted that the 2010 extra payment was actually his motion – Luna had wanted more than twice that amount. “I reiterated that was a one-time deviation from the recommendation of the endowment fund,” Ysursa said. “That term ‘one-time’ continues to stick in my mind. But I think the superintendent has raised some good points.” He noted that the 2010 decision was a tense 3-2 vote.

Luna responded, “If I understand the motion, maybe not all the rhetoric that went with it, it’s that we will approve the distributions for all but public schools, and public schools we will set a distribution at our September meeting.” Wasden responded, “That is correct.”

Luna said he’s proposing sticking to the state policy, regarding a 5 percent distribution of the rolling three-year average, not violating it. But Ysursa noted that there’s also a policy targeting 5 years worth of distributions as the reserve level. “We’ve got two competing policies, is what’s going on,” he said.

The board then voted unanimously for Wasden’s motion, putting off the decision on the public school distribution to its September meeting.

How tech and company qualifications were scored for WiFi contract…

Here’s a link to the full scoring documents for the 10 bids submitted for the state’s controversial high school WiFi contract, which went to Education Networks of America. The contract, at $2.11 million a year for five years with options to extend for up to 15 years, could cost the state $33.3 million if it runs the full 15 years. These documents were obtained from the State Department of Education under the Idaho Public Records Law.

While cost proposals were scored through a formula (see the post below), in the other two equally weighted categories, company overview/experience and technology, scores of zero, 1, 5 or 10 were assigned for an array of items, from financial statements to “corporate culture” to wireless bandwidth to having a Boise office.

ENA, which won the contract despite having four others submit lower-cost bids, scored the most 10’s, with 15 of its 28 scores coming in as 10’s, far more than anyone else’s. Ednetics got six 10’s; Tek-Hut got four on its lower-cost bid No. 1, and three on its bid No. 2. In the scoring documents, a “10” was defined for many of the 28 subcategories as: “Offeror exceeds requirements and expectations. Demonstrates lengthy experience on successful large or complex projects.” You can read the full 34-page scoring form here, that eight members of an evaluation committee used to assign the scores. (A ninth member, David McCauley, didn't participate due to illness.)

For technology subcategories, a “5” was defined as, “Evaluators are generally confident that offeror has adequately shown its willingness to produce satisfactory results,” while a “10” was defined as, “Offeror exceeds requirements and expectations. Demonstrates willingness and provides evidence of its commitment.”

In all the subcategories, a zero was for failing to respond; a 1 was for “marginal” or “minimal” compliance with that item.

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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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