BOISE – A legislative audit has identified serious management problems in the office of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, problems that Luna didn’t dispute and says now have been corrected.
They ranged from improper accounting to sensitive personal information in teacher certification files being stored in unsecured boxes under employees’ desks. “They’ve taken care of that; they consider it closed, as do we,” said legislative audit division manager Don Berg.
The audit found that $766,012 in salaries and wages for the special education division of the Department of Education were charged to a federal grant without providing any documentation on what work was done and for which programs. The lack of detailed reporting “could result in federal penalties and sanctions,” the audit warned. Luna’s office worked with the auditors to develop the appropriate reporting. “The department implemented policies and procedures to address the issue and has scheduled quarterly reviews of federal time reporting,” according to the agency’s response to the audit.
The audit also found that nearly $4.9 million in interest wasn’t credited to the public education stabilization fund from February to December of 2007. A January 2008 adjustment corrected that, “but we are concerned that the department’s financial monitoring procedures are incomplete or not properly followed,” the audit stated. The department responded that it’ll correct the problem, and may seek clarifying legislation.
Finally, the audit identified problems with the handling of sensitive teacher certification information. The department said it has changed its system for handling the documents and educated employees on “proper handling of sensitive documents,” and said, “The department considers this issue to be resolved.”
Luna’s spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “Superintendent Luna is constantly working to improve the operations at the state Department of Education to ensure we are providing the best service possible to the customers of education. A recent legislative audit pointed out some areas in which the State Department of Education needed to improve. We took those audit findings seriously and are happy we were able to address each area immediately.”
First TV commercials air in 1st District race
Democratic congressional candidate Walt Minnick started running two TV campaign commercials this week, in both the Boise and Spokane/Coeur d’Alene markets. The first is an introductory spot that focuses on Minnick’s experience as a timber products company CEO and an Army veteran, while the second uses the same experiences to portray Minnick as a leader who can handle “tough times.”
“An Army veteran and CEO, Walt Minnick led a billion dollar Idaho company through three recessions,” the ad says, “Cut his own salary first. Rolled up his sleeves. And focused on the things that left the company stronger when tough times were over.”
Minnick joined Trus Joist Corp. in 1974 as a management trainee and rose to president and CEO at the age of 36, a position he held until he left the company in 1995. Part of his strategy for coping with a 1979-80 recession included management salary cuts of 5 to 15 percent, according to the company’s annual report.
Wayne Hoffman, spokesman for incumbent Rep. Bill Sali’s campaign, had no comment on the Minnick commercials. Sali has run no TV campaign ads so far this year, and Hoffman wouldn’t say if any are in the works.
BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby, after viewing the ads, said, “I think it’s a very positive message that will resonate with voters in the 1st District. This, of course, is the opening shot. … No specifics here, and I’m not surprised at this point, and no reference to his opponent at this point. … I think that early introduction is important. It’s Walt Minnick defining himself, rather than having Bill Sali define him as some wild-eyed liberal spender, or another puppet of Nancy Pelosi, or however Sali might attack him. It’s Walt Minnick presenting himself as a Western moderate Democrat.”
Risch turns down one debate, accepts another
Democrat Larry LaRocco has been calling on Republican Jim Risch to commit to participating in the traditional debate sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, League of Women Voters and Idaho Public TV that will be broadcast live statewide in October as Idahoans decide who should replace longtime U.S. Sen. Larry Craig. Now Risch has given his answer, in a letter to Elinor Chehey of the League of Women Voters:
“Dear Ms. Chehey: The Jim Risch for U.S. Senate Campaign received your letter of July 16, 2008, regarding the debate you are sponsoring for U.S. Senate candidates. We receive many requests to do candidate debates and forums. We have chosen your debate in years past. This year, however, we have chosen a debate on October 21, sponsored by KTVB and other entities, and another debate sponsored by the Lewiston Morning Tribune. Thank you for your invitation. Very truly yours,
Ryan White, Risch for U.S. Senate Committee.”
Three days later, Risch announced that he’s accepted an invitation to appear at a noontime debate sponsored by the Meridian Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 28. “This is yet another great opportunity for Idahoans to learn about the candidates and make an informed decision in the U.S. Senate race,” Risch said in a statement.
Opponents LaRocco and Rex Rammell, an independent, have called on Risch to join them in a series of live debates around the state.