State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox on Wednesday acknowledged that her chief deputy is checking department telephone logs to find employees who have been contacting newspapers and state lawmakers.
“We have had someone within our agency calling different newspapers, telling them things that are not true,” Fox said after her initial appearance before the Senate Education Committee.
“It’s stirring up the papers, wasting the newspapers’ time and our time,” the Republican school chief said. “If someone lies and says things that are not true, it’s inappropriate.”
During her appearance before the committee, Fox also said she would essentially be abandoning the so-called Education Coalition. The group was formed more than a decade ago to provide a consensus state school aid budget to lawmakers.
Fox said she would listen to the positions of the teachers, administrators, school boards and parent-teacher associations, but would form her own budget proposals in the future.
“The coalition will not be the driving force to put together that budget,” she said. “I will be taking input from all groups, and that will include taxpayers, who have not been represented in the coalition.”
Key committee members, including Republican Chairman John Hansen of Idaho Falls, hoped that the coalition would continue to operate because it offered a consensus approach to education support.
Fox also shrugged off the suggestion of some committee members that her housecleaning of top employees in the department had left it unable to provide legitimate information on key issues.
Some lawmakers though the Legislature should look elsewhere for facts needed to make decisions.
“Two heads are always better than one,” she said. “We talk to as many people as we can, too.”
But Republican Gary Schroeder of Moscow wanted an information source other “than the department since there seems to be problems there.”
The primary target of their concern was the top expert on the state school aid distribution formula. She was abruptly fired last week, apparently just hours after raising questions about the political propriety of several major expenditures Fox had made.
Fox again said Marian Hylen was dismissed from her $60,000 job in a cost-cutting move. She said the department had just hired Larry Maupin, the Parma School District manager, to take over her computer responsibilities for $40,000.
Fox confirmed that the search for employees talking with reporters and lawmakers just was utilizing computer printouts of all the numbers called from department telephones. She said Terry Haws, her chief deputy and campaign manager, had just begun going through the extensive lists.
Haws is attempting to match times of calls to newspapers or lawmakers with times when the department received inquiries about what she labeled erroneous accusations.
But while Fox said the computerized logs are generated on all outgoing state telephone calls, no matter the agency, analysts for the administration and Legislature said agencies are routinely given only the list of long-distance calls. A special request must be made to obtain a log of local calls.
“There have been about four incidents” that prompted the search in her department, Fox said.
After running on a platform of fiscal accountability to taxpayers, she specifically cited a report that she had purchased $80,000 in new furniture for her office. Department officials said that only $8,000 in new furniture was purchased along with a luxury car leased for $530 a month.
The other involved a legislator who she said was told all department employees were ordered to remove personal effects from their desks - something she maintained was not true.
“I don’t understand it, but it’s sad and wasting everyone’s time,” Fox said.
The culprits have not been found yet, she said, and when they are, “they will be conferenced with and talked about because that is not appropriate behavior.”