Idaho

School reform leader booted from Otter’s task force after he joins challenger’s campaign

BOISE - Mike Lanza, the parent-turned-education activist who chaired the campaign that successfully overturned Idaho’s controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws, says he’s been booted from Gov. Butch Otter’s education improvement task force because he’s signed on with Otter’s Democratic opponent’s campaign.

The 31-member task force brought all sides in the education reform debate together and made 20 recommendations, all of which Otter endorsed; the Legislature started work on some of those this year.

Lanza, who is now communications director and education adviser to Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign, also still heads Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, the group that grew out of the successful referendum campaign in 2012. “There are politicians and candidates now serving on the task force, and no one questions whether they should be, and I don’t question whether they should be,” Lanza said. “They all have an appropriate role. No one has ever suggested that any of the dealings of the task force have been politicized.”

Marilyn Whitney, spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, which oversees the task force, said task force head Richard Westerberg, a board member, made the call, in consultation with board Chairman Don Soltman and board Executive Director Mike Rush, none of whom were immediately available for comment. “What I do know is that if IPAT wishes to have someone they can, but that it’s problematic and could be counter-productive for that person to be Mike, given that he now represents another entity,” Whitney said. “I think the board worked very hard to keep the previous task force process from being political and politicized.”

The original 31-member task force is now reforming into two new committees, which will work for the next year on two subdivisions of the task force recommendations: Career Ladder, Tiered Licensure and Mentoring; and Structure and Governance, including mastery, accountability, autonomy, and an enrollment funding model. Lanza said Westerberg asked him several weeks ago to serve on the latter, and he agreed. “I was looking forward to it,” Lanza said.

Then on Monday, Rush contacted Lanza to say Westerberg had decided he’s out. Lanza said he asked to talk with Westerberg directly; the two then had a phone conversation the same day in which Westerberg told Lanza he didn’t want to “take the risk” of having someone involved with a political campaign on the committee.

“I can only see this as Gov. Otter’s retribution for me working for his opponent,” Lanza said. “Richard Westerberg was just the messenger.”

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Otter, said in a statement, “The governor and the board expressed concern that the Task Force should not be used as a political platform. We believe politics should be kept out of this process. Mr. Lanza has announced, and it is our understanding he is, the communication director for a candidate running for governor. Mr. Lanza’s organization can still have a seat at the table. We have asked him to provide a replacement.”

Whitney said, “The previous task force, their work is finished. So there is a new model going forward. … These are new committees.”

She released the list of the two new committees’ members this afternoon; the Career Ladder panel has 19 members and the Structure and Governance one 15 members, plus each has three ex-officio members: Westerberg, Soltman, and Roger Brown, Otter’s education adviser.

According to the list, 10 of the original 31 task force members aren’t on the two new committees, and 16 members of the two new committees weren’t on the original task force. The additions include six additional state legislators, all of whom are up for re-election; and two more state board members.

Whitney said a third committee still is being formed, to focus on reading proficiency and literacy. That group will “mainly be practitioners,” she said, including representatives of the state’s library association and Idaho Voices for Children.

“That’s the model for the follow-on work,” Whitney said. “The foundation was laid by the task force.”



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