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Lanza booted from Otter’s ed task force after he joins Democratic challenger’s campaign

Mike Lanza, the parent-turned-education activist who chaired the campaign that successfully overturned the “Students Come First” school reform laws, says he’s been booted from Idaho 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; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

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 spokesman.com.

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.

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 spokesman.com. Also, click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller on Luna's determination to push for merit pay in 2013.

Referendum Drive Greets Ed ‘Reform’

No sooner had Gov. Butch Otter signed SB 1184, the third major school-reform bill, into law, than a new group of parents and teachers calling itself “Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform” had delivered the preliminary paperwork to the Idaho Secretary of State's office for a referendum seeking to overturn the new law. “Frankly, this is very much a parent-driven effort,” said Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who's joined Boise parent Maria Greeley to form the new group. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa received the documents and said, “We'll expedite this … the clock is ticking”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here. (SR photo: Betsy Russell)

Question: Do you think the group backing the referendum to Tom Luna's education “reform” can collect 47,432 signatures to land on the 2012 Idaho general election ballot?