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Idaho school reform combatants on both sides call for new start

Here's a link to my full day-after-the-election story at spokesman.com, on how after Idaho voters decisively rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws on Tuesday, leaders on both sides were calling today for a new start on education reforms in Idaho, with all the stakeholders at the table.

Otter: ‘We’re prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all the stakeholders’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke with reporters this afternoon about the election results, and he said the call from “Students Come First” opponents to begin new talks with all stakeholders about school reform is “exactly what I want to do.”

“I think the interest that was shown on both sides, and what we heard on both sides, gives us a good opportunity to start developing, with everybody, a concurrent plan that we can go forward with,” Otter said. “I think everybody does realize, whether they voted for or against the propositions, that our old education system is simply not working. We're not graduating students in many cases that are ready for college, not ready for the wonderful world of work or careers. … I talked to some of the leadership this morning and we're prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all of the stakeholders.”

Otter said he'd be opposed to trying to just re-pass the same laws the voters have rejected. “That isn't a course that I think is positive, that isn't a course that I think would be productive,” he said. “I do think what we need to do is take each prop, each idea of reform, and sit down and say, 'What did you like about it? What didn't you like about it? If you had a chance to change it, how would you change it?' And those things that we can agree on, and each and every one of those … is what we ought to go forward with.”

Unlike Otter, Luna didn't talk to the press today. Asked about Luna's sentiments, Otter said, “I sense that he believes this is a new beginning on education reform, and that we're going to have to go forward.”

The governor said, “There is something we ought to be celebrating today, and that is the big turnout that we had in Idaho. … But we also need to celebrate the independence of the Idaho voter. The Idaho voter isn't going to be led anyplace without some rational thought on their own, without some investigation on their own. I have been the benefactor of that, and in some cases I haven't benefited so much from it. But I still love the independence, and I celebrate their independence today.”

He added, “I want to concentrate right now on the path forward. I want to vet that through the (legislative) leadership, say what can we accomplish, and how quick  can we accomplish that, and who do we have to have in the room to accomplish it.”

Contract: No cost to state now that Prop 3 voted down

I've had several inquiries from readers concerned that now that voters have rejected Proposition 3, that the state would face costs related to the now-canceled $182 million laptop contract with Hewlett-Packard. I can verify that according to H-P's Business and Scope of Work Proposal, which is included in the contract as Exhibit D, the state is not required to make any payments.

Bidders were asked to outline early termination costs if Prop 3 didn't pass. H-P said the cost would be zero, as its period of performance for the contract wouldn't begin until the day after the election. It's in Exhibit D on page 102-3; you can read those two pages here. It says, “With a projected start date after November 6, HP anticipates that there will be no lease funding necessary as no notebook units would have shipped or have been accepted prior to the Proposition 3 ballot in November 2012. Hewlett-Packard will not fund any Lease Schedule under the Master Agreement until and unless Proposition 3 has been approved by Idaho voters in November, 2012.”

Otter on school reform: ‘The public conversation isn’t over, it’s only begun’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement today on the voters' rejection of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, the “Students Come First” school reform measures:

“The people have spoken, so I’m not discouraged. That’s how our system works. But it’s important to remember that the public conversation that began almost two years ago isn’t over – it’s only begun. Our workforce, our communities and most of all our students still deserve better, and our resources are still limited. We offered these reforms not because we sought change for change’s sake, but because change is needed to afford our young people the opportunities they deserve now and for decades to come. That’s as true today as it was yesterday, so our work for a brighter and better future continues.”

‘We want to sit down with our elected leaders, and that includes Supt. Luna’

Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who chaired the “No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, said today, “I first got involved in this effort because I have a couple of elementary kids and that was my entire motivation for getting involved. … This election was not a vote against better schools, quite to the contrary. This outcome was a statement by voters that we care very deeply about Idaho's public schools.” He said, “Let's be clear about the mandate from voters,” listing five points:

* “Idaho's voters believe in local control of public schools and reject any top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates from the state.”
* “We believe that every student deserves to have an excellent teacher, and reject the notion of cutting teachers and increasing class sizes in order to pay for unproven technological education fixes.”
* “We believe in the fundamental fairness of a collaborative benefit for everyone of giving our teachers a full voice in how our schools are managed, through the local negotiations process, including on matters beyond pay and benefits.”
* “We believe we should invest in the classroom and reject the idea than an unfunded and unproven merit pay plan can improve student achievement.”
* “And we believe that all stakeholders in education should be brought to the table to engage in a real and an honest process of figuring out how to improve Idaho's public schools.”

Said Lanza, “Most of all in this election, voters said overwhelmingly our elected leaders must be held accountable to the public.” At that point, he was interrupted by applause. “We want to sit down with our elected leaders, and that includes Supt. Luna,” Lanza said, “and begin the hard work that is required to forge real education reform.”

Maria Greeley, a Boise mom and co-founder of the campaign with Lanza, said, “The Luna laws were divisive and destructive, but there is a positive outcome. We have learned how important it is for all citizens to remain engaged in education. We know what we don't want, and by contrast, we have learned what we do want. We want transparency. We want collaboration. We want politics kept out of education. We want the input from our educators. We want our locally elected school boards to determine what is best for each district. And we want to know that our teachers are valued. It is now time to start healing and moving forward.”
  

IEA chief: ‘Together we can be a model of reform for the nation’

Leaders of the successful campaign to overturn state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform laws gathered in front of Boise High School today to talk about what's next. “This debate has never been about union control of schools,” said Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, and also a mother of four and 28-year teacher in the Moscow School District. “This debate has been about what's best for the students, educators and Idaho's public schools.” She added, “Now that the voters have spoken, it's up to us, the adults, to model … for our students how grownups with diverse views can come together and put their differences aside and go forward. … I urge lawmakers and other elected leaders and policy makers to meet us at the table, to begin the conversation about what is best for Idaho's students and Idaho's schools. We believe that together we can be a model of reform for the nation.”

Luna: ‘I do not believe any Idahoan wants to go back to system we had 2 years ago’

After all three of his “Students Come First” school reform measures were soundly defeated by Idaho voters yesterday, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna issued this statement this morning:

“I still believe that Idahoans want better schools through education reform. I still believe that empowering local school boards, phasing out tenure, giving parents input on evaluations, helping students take dual credit, paying teachers for more than just years of experience and amount of education, and making sure every classroom is a 21st  Century Classroom are critical if we want an education system that meets the needs of every child. We have now had a 22-month discussion about what this should look like. I understand Idahoans have expressed concerns, yet I do not believe any Idahoan wants to go back to the status quo system we had two years ago. I am as committed as anyone to finding a way to make this happen. We must find a way because our children’s future is at stake.”
  

All three school reform measures fail

With 93 percent of the vote counted, all three “Students Come First” school reform measures are being soundly defeated. That means the laws passed amid much controversy in 2011 are repealed. Here's where they stand:

Proposition 1: 42.8% yes, 57.2% no
Proposition 2: 42.1 percent yes, 57.9 percent no
Proposition 3: 33.4 percent yes, 66.6 percent no

Voters appear to be rejecting school reform referendum measures

Idaho's dominant Republican establishment appeared headed for a rare rebuke from voters Tuesday, as  school-reform measures pushed hard by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and GOP Gov. Butch Otter trailed at the polls at press time. The three measures, Propositions 1, 2 and 3, became the hottest election issue in Idaho this year, eclipsing even the presidential race - which was a foregone conclusion for Idaho's four electoral votes in the heavily GOP state that strongly favored Mitt Romney.

Luna called the measures “by far the most important choice on education that many of us will make in our lifetime,” and Otter called them “very important.” On election night, Otter told The Spokesman-Review, “We'll go back, get our heads together in the Legislature, and see where we go from there.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

With 20% of vote counted, all three school reform measures still trail

With 20 percent of the vote counted, all three school reform referendum measures continue to trail, with Proposition 3, the technology measure, faring the worst, losing 64.1 to 35.9 percent. Here's the current tally:

Proposition 1: 45.3 percent yes, 54.7 percent no
Proposition 2: 44.5 percent yes, 55.5 percent no
Proposition 3: 35.9 percent yes, 64.1 percent no

South Dakota voters overwhelmingly reject school reform referendum measure

South Dakota, like Idaho, also had a referendum measure on its ballot regarding teacher contracts; that state's measure asked voters whether they wanted to keep a law their Legislature passed phasing out tenure and imposing a merit-pay bonus system along with a scholarship program. With more than 85 percent of the vote counted there, South Dakota voters are overwhelmingly rejecting the propositions; just 32 percent voted yes, 68 percent no.

School reform opponents: ‘An affirmation’

Opponents of the “Students Come First” school reform measures are celebrating at their own election-night party at the Red Lion Downtowner hotel. The early numbers show a win for the opponents.

“If we pull this off, it's going to be an affirmation of what we've believed since the 2011 session,” said Mike Lanza, chairman of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, shown here discussing the latest results with Boise City Councilwoman Lauren McLean. “The public didn't buy any of the case that Superintendent Luna made for these laws,” Lanza said, “and didn't trust that they were best for our schools.”

A Boise father who hadn't been active in politics before the referendum campaign, Lanza said, “We'll be ready to bring everybody together and have a real and honest conversation about what our schools need and how we can make them better. It has to be based on hard data and things that really work, and not just ideology and things that sound good to some people.”

Idaho’s school-reform hot potato…

I was contacted in April by State Legislatures Magazine, which is published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, about writing a piece about Idaho's school-reform fight for their fall issue, a big-picture piece looking at how the reforms came to be introduced, what they do, the players supporting and opposed to the changes, and how the politics played out in Boise that led to the measures passing the Legislature. I don't often do freelance work (no time), but this seemed worthwhile, my newspaper approved, and I agreed. I took a week's vacation to do the interviews, and filed the story in June. It's now out, and at this point, from the thick of the campaign, it's interesting to step back and look at this whole thing from a big-picture perspective.

The article is headed, “A Bold Approach to School Reform: Sweeping changes to Idaho’s education policy turned into a hot potato issue that’s landed in the voters’ laps.” You can read it here.
  

Ad Watch: Latest school reform commercial echoes earlier one

The latest TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 comes from “Yes for Idaho Education,” and features a message strikingly similar to that in a September statewide ad from “Parents for Education Reform.” The look is different, with video of teachers and kids in class, and there's different music, but the message is the same; it pulls out a feel-good item from each of the three complex measures and touts it as what the propositions will do. It does add in a jab at the “national teachers union” that was missing from the earlier ad. “It is essentially the same general positive message we’ve had in initial TV, in radio ads, and on our direct mail absentee chase,” said Ken Burgess, spokesman for the “Yes” campaign.

Click below to compare the wording of the new “Yes” ad and the previous ad from PFER, which was the group that placed the ads funded by secret contributions to Education Voters of Idaho; you can read my fact-check story here from Sept. 28, which was headed, “Ad touting school reforms tells just part of story.”

The  new “Yes” ad is running only in the Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls/Pocatello markets, Burgess said, adding, “We've left the Gov. Otter ad in place for our full run in Spokane.”

‘Buyout’ clause in laptop contract is not just a contingency, it’s a required cost

It turns out that the “buyout” clause in the $182 million laptop contract is not what the State Department of Education originally described - a  cost that “is only paid if the contract is severed for some reason” and “may or may not be paid.” In response to my repeated inquiries, after I found no reference to such an early-cancellation buyout fee in the contract, SDE spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told me this afternoon, “That would be my error.” Instead, the “buyout” clause is the amount the state would have to pay at the end of the contract term - after it's run its full eight years - to buy out the remaining years in the four-year leases on the laptops, for those with years remaining. That means it's definitely a cost that will remain part of the total.

I'm still awaiting answers as to why the amount estimated by the department, $14.2 million, doesn't match up to the amount of remaining lease payments times the number of units, which comes to $21.9 million. If that's the required buyout at the end of the term, the total contract cost is nearly $190 million - $189,687,228 - not the $181,935,125 the department estimates.

McGrath said the difference in amount comes because the state is scheduled to pay the laptop leases in two semi-annual installments each year, with the two payments together totaling $292.77 per unit per year. “The $14.2 million figure was an estimate HP provided for us,” McGrath said in an email. “The $21 million calculation would have been based on the full cost of the buyout, yet since the state is doing semi-annual payments with HP, it will only pay half of these costs at the end of 8 years.”

Here's my problem with that logic: Whether you pay in two installments or a single piece, you still pay the same amount. The state's estimates show no additional payment in Year 8 for the first half of the buyouts; costs for Year 8 are estimated at $26,459,382, the exact same amount as for years 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the contract, an amount that's exactly equal to the estimated 90,376 laptops times $292.77.

McGrath, who is checking back once again with the SDE's accounting department and will get back to me, said, “I believe either it's already factored in or it's not getting paid. This is the full amount of the contract.”

Incidentally, the contract also allows for up to a 4 percent increase in the $292.77 rate after the first four years, if HP can provide “full justification as to why the adjustment is necessary.” If that full 4 percent increase were approved at that point, it would add another $4.2 million to cost of the eight-year contract.

School reform campaign spending sets a record - or does it?

Idaho's fight over three school-reform ballot measures has set a record for campaign spending on ballot measures in straight dollars, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, eclipsing the 1986 battle in which voters affirmed the Legislature's passage of the Right to Work law. Between all the different groups involved in the school reform campaign, including independent expenditures, Popkey calculates that the opponents have raised $3.6 million and backers $2.6 million, a total of $6.2 million.

In 1986, unions opposed to the Right to Work law spent $2.8 million on the campaign to overturn it, while backers of the law spent $1.167 million to defend it, a total of just under $4 million; 54 percent of voters backed the law. You can read  Popkey's full post here.

If inflation since 1986 is taken into account, however, the 1986 battle still ranks as Idaho's biggest. Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, which is based on the Consumer Price Index, the $3.967 million spent that year would equal $8.376 million in today's 2012 dollars.

So who did all this giving this time around? The biggest giver among proponents is eastern Idaho millionaire Frank VanderSloot. Between VanderSloot's independent expenditures and his donations to various groups campaigning in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the Melaleuca owner so far has spent $1.4 million, and he told Popkey, “I'm not done yet.”

On the “no” side, the biggest giver has been the National Education Association, which has donated $2.8 million so far. Second-biggest is the Idaho Education Association, which has kicked in $601,068, including $495,971 to the “No” campaign and another $105,097 to the group “Idaho Republicans for our Schools,” which is running radio ads against the measures. The “No” campaign also has received $36,500 from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.; $10,000 from Anthony Balukoff; $5,000 from the Pacific Northwest Regional Carpenters Union; and a slew of much smaller donations from individuals in Idaho. The campaign filed 44 pages listing hundreds of small donations from individuals, some as small as $3 apiece; the law requires disclosure only of donations of more than $50.

On the “Yes” side, the money has flowed through the official “Yes for Idaho Education” campaign, which reported raising $950,974, with VanderSloot's Melaleuca as its biggest giver at $604,500; and three other groups: the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, which got all its $428,000 from VanderSloot; Education Voters of Idaho, which revealed yesterday that the biggest givers in its $641,160 in fundraising were Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000; and Parents for Education Reform, a group related to EVI that raised $150,000, including $100,000 from Students First, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group headed by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and $50,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also gave $50,000 to the official “Yes” campaign.

You can see all the campaign finance reports on the Secretary of State's website here. They're listed variously under Party Committees, Measure and Miscellaneous Committees, and Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications. The final pre-general election reporting period ended Oct. 21, but large amounts donated after that must be reported within 48 hours in separate 48-hour reports that show up on the same website.
  

Hagadone gave openly to school overhaul campaign, then took it back and gave secretly

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Amid a campaign secrecy dustup, millionaire Idaho businessman Duane Hagadone took back money from a group that was reporting it publicly and gave it to another that fought to keep its donors hidden. On Aug. 6, Hagadone gave $15,000 to Yes for Education, a political action committee campaigning to preserve public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul at the ballot box Nov. 6. On Aug. 14, the PAC returned Hagadone's $15,000, according to records filed with the Idaho secretary of state's office. Weeks later, on Sept. 24, he gave $15,000 to Education Voters of Idaho, a group that sought to keep its contributors secret but was forced by a judge Wednesday to reveal financiers, including Hagadone. Hagadone didn't immediately return an e-mail on Thursday seeking comment on his campaign spending.

Ad Watch: Otter steps forward in latest school reform ad

The latest campaign ad in Idaho's school reform fight features Gov. Butch Otter endorsing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in a positive, feel-good message. “Education in Idaho is at a crossroads,” the casually dressed governor says in the commercial, which is running statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. “This election year we're being asked whether we will keep meaningful education reforms on the books or go back to the old way of doing things.”

The “old way of doing things” refers to Idaho's laws prior to 2011, when lawmakers enacted the reforms that restricted teachers' collective bargaining rights, imposed a new merit-pay bonus system, and required big technology boosts including laptop computers for high school students and a new focus on online learning. “It paints the opposition as being reactionaries, going back to the old ways, which is kind of funny,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University. “It's a pretty positive message.”

The ad is sponsored by “Yes for Idaho Education,” the official campaign group backing the three measures. Opponents of the laws collected thousands of signatures to force a voter referendum on the laws; a yes vote would keep them, while a no vote would repeal them. Ken Burgess, spokesman for the Yes campaign, said the idea behind the ad was partly to defuse ire aimed against state Superintendent Tom Luna, the author of the laws. “All this issue about these things being called the 'Luna laws' - we just want to remind everybody from a leadership, statesman standpoint that the governor was as much responsible for this stuff certainly as Tom Luna,” Burgess said.  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, examining the claims in the ad.

Otter: First lady asked NY mayor Bloomberg to donate to Idaho campaign group

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says it wasn't him who asked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to donate to Idaho's school-reform fight - it was First Lady Lori Otter. “The first lady was the one that talked to Mike's organization,” Otter said today, before judging a children's Halloween costume contest on the state Capitol steps. “You know, we got to know Mike pretty well, going up to the, Herb Allen has his gathering up in Sun Valley, and so every year we've gone up, we've ran into Mike, and had an opportunity to kind of get to know each other. He's been interested in education, and Lori I think was telling him about it while we were up there, and he said, 'Give me a call, I'll see if I can help you,' or give his organization a call, I should say, and he'd see if he could help us.” Bloomberg donated $200,000 to the secret-donations group Education Voters of Idaho, which today revealed its donors under a court order.

Otter said he was the one who made the pitch to Albertson's heir Joe Scott, who anted up $250,000. “And he was very gracious,” Otter said. “But he wanted everybody to know and to make sure that it was him personally,” as opposed to the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Both Otter and the first lady today were dressed in costumes consisting of academic caps and gowns, with the foundation's “Go On” slogan festooned on them, urging kids to go on to higher ed after college.

Otter said he did participate in a fundraiser for the school-reform campaign at the Republican National Convention that featured Jeb Bush. He asked how much EVI reported today that it had raised overall, and seemed pleased with the $641,000 figure, saying, “OK, good!”


The group was presented by its chair, Debbie Field, and co-executive director, John Foster, as a way to provide a voice for parents in the debate, but its donor list is heavy on businesses and organizations and out-of-state wealthy folks. “As far as corporations, those other organizations, remember they all have employees, and those employees have kids,” Otter said. “And they also want to look forward to tomorrow's workforce, and they know that a good education is an important part of that.”

Otter said he was fine with the donors being disclosed. “I think, look, that's the law,” he said. “No matter where you organize the organization … they've got to obey our laws. And that has been my position all along.”
  

Ysursa: ‘We do think this will send a message’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says Education Voters of Idaho has now complied with the state's Sunshine Law, by filing the required forms revealing its donors. “This seems to be in total compliance with what we wanted, and of course the judge's order,” he said. “This is what we always wanted, we wanted disclosure. Let the people decide with all the information in front of them, who gave what to a ballot measure committee. That's certainly required by the Sunshine Law that 78 percent of the folks voted for way back in 1974.”

He noted that other states are grappling with similar issues. California is currently trying to get pre-election disclosure on an $11 million donation, Ysursa said. “We're watching the California issue very, very closely from a legal point of view.” He said, “We can always fine-tune our law to make it crystal-clear.” But Ysursa said Idaho has the right, as a matter of state sovereignty, to regulate campaign finances as it chooses and require disclosure.

“We do think this will send a message,” Ysursa said. “This office takes its duties very seriously on campaign disclosure, and when we came up across this scenario, we felt compelled that we had to go into court and follow the law.” He added, “I just hope we all get back to what's very important, and that's Nov 6 and get people out to vote.”

Overall, the campaign finance reports filed by Education Voters of Idaho today showed that most of the donations were large and many were from out of state, including the marquee donation of $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the group’s 25 donors, 10 were from outside Idaho; the out-of-state donors’ total of $320,000 in contributions nearly matched the $321,000 from in-state donors. Twelve of the 25 donors were businesses or organizations; 13 were individuals. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

EVI leaders: ‘We are proud of our donors’

John Foster and Debbie Field of Education Voters for Idaho submitted a letter to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa when they filed their required campaign finance disclosure forms for the group this afternoon. In it, they said they “strongly disagree” with 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell's decision ordering them to disclose, but, “we have decided to fully comply with his order rather than immediately file an appeal.” They said they are still considering whether to file an appeal.

“We want to make it clear to you and to the public that our actions were based solely on what we believe are our duties to our donors,” the two wrote, “and our duty to protect our rights as a corporation under Idaho code, the Idaho Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are proud of our donors and humbled by their strong support for long-term education reform in Idaho.” You can read the full letter here.
  

Albertson Foundation: ‘It wasn’t us’

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has released this statement: “The donation made by Joe B. Scott to the Education Voters of Idaho fund was made by Mr. Scott as a private, concerned citizen. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation was not involved in any way in the contribution and no Foundation funds were used.”

Click below for the remainder of the statement, which focuses on the foundation's vision of “limitless learning for all Idahoans.”

New York mayor’s office doesn’t know why Bloomberg gave, and they’re ‘wall to wall’ with storm

Asked why the mayor of New York donated $200,000 to an Idaho school reform ballot measure campaign, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press office said, “I don't know the answer. … We're a little wall-to-wall right now.” The city is in the midst of coping with the giant superstorm that's hit the east coast. “That's a separate operation, the mayor's private money,” the spokesman said. “This is city hall. … I will pass this along and see if I can have someone get back to you.”

Link to the full reports…

Here's a link to the full campaign finance reports filed this afternoon by Education Voters of Idaho, which show that the group has collected more than $641,000 in until-now anonymous donations to back state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reforms. The two biggest givers, by far, were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000, and Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000. Others who gave $10,000 or more included John D. Bryan of Lake Oswego, Ore., $10,000; Intermountain Gas Co., $10,000; Idaho Forest Group, $10,000; F. Friess of Jackson, Wyo., $25,000; Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, $50,000; M3 Eagle LLC, $10,000; Hagadone Hospitality, $15,000; and Clear Springs Foods of Buhl, $10,000.
  

Mayor of New York among big givers to Idaho secret-donors school reform campaign

Education Voters of Idaho, acting under a judge's order, filed its campaign finance disclosure report this afternoon, revealing the until-now anonymous donors to the group's statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. Among them: $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and $250,000 from Boise's Joseph B. Scott.

Michael Bloomberg is the third-term mayor of New York, an independent, a former Republican and former Democrat, and one of the nation's richest men. He is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and made national waves this year with his move to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks in servings bigger than 16 ounces on public health grounds. He's clashed with the city's public employee unions, including during a transit workers strike in 2005, and as mayor took direct control over the city's public schools, where he's pushed for reforms.

Joseph B. Scott is the grandson of the late grocery store magnate Joe Albertson; he's the chairman of the board of the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which has donated millions toward public education projects in Idaho, from funding the Idaho Education Network to giving grants to Idaho school districts. The foundation ran full-page ads in newspapers across Idaho in 2011 promoting state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan. Scott also made millions with his own investments in for-profit online education firm K12 Inc., according to the Associated Press, even as the family foundation handed out grants in Idaho to increase online learning.

Note: Despite the time stamp on this post, I didn't get this early. My newspaper's servers are in the Pacific time zone, so the time stamps show a time an hour earlier than the Mountain time I operate in here in Boise.
  

Awaiting the big reveal…

Idaho political watchers are awaiting the big reveal today - when a secretive group, under a court order, reveals the source of more than $200,000 it collected to underwrite statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. The rumor mill is going wild, but nothing's been filed yet. A judge has ordered Education Voters of Idaho to file its disclosure report with the Idaho Secretary of State's office by 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, click below for AP reporter John Miller's report on how Idaho isn't alone in scrutinizing how campaign disclosure laws apply to nonprofit groups.

Campaign finance reports show VanderSloot, union up ante in ed overhaul fight

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Eastern Idaho Republican businessman Frank VanderSloot has now spent more than $1 million to help support public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul survive the Nov. 6 vote. VanderSloot hopes his money, most coming from his direct-marketing company Melaleuca, is an antidote to efforts financed by the National Education Association and its state affiliate. According to Tuesday's campaign-finance reports, they've bankrolled TV commercials and other advertising against the education changes in excess of $2 million. VanderSloot's TV ads have sought to portray those fighting the education changes as simply seeking to protect union power. Luna's 2011-passed laws limit teachers' collective bargaining rights, require online classes and mandate laptops for ninth-graders, a program due to cost Idaho $180 million over eight years. Luna's foes contend that will take money from teachers.

Former state official would play key role under laptop contract

The state's $182 million, eight-year contract for laptop computers for high school students includes information about key staffers for the companies that partnered in the successful bid, including Hewlett-Packard, Education Networks of America and Xtreme Consulting. Among them is a familiar name: Garry Lough, Idaho director of customer services for ENA. Until March 2 of this year, Lough was a state of Idaho employee, working for the state Department of Education and the Department of Administration as communications director for the Idaho Education Network.

The IEN is a state project that provides a broadband connection to every Idaho high school; despite a lawsuit from other bidders, ENA and partner Qwest, now CenturyLink, won the multimillion-dollar statewide contract in 2009. Now, it has a continuing $8 million annual contract to operate the network for the state.

Lough is a former Idaho Republican Party executive director who went to work for the state in 2007 as  a legislative liaison for the State Department of Education after a stint with the state controller's office. According to state records, during his five years with the state, his pay rose from about $65,000 a year to about $72,800 a year.

Now, Lough is in a key position as ENA is a subcontractor with Hewlett-Packard in the laptop computer contract, with ENA in charge of setting up and operating wireless networks in every Idaho high school, using that same broadband connection the firm already helped bring to the schools with the IEN. “I think it'll be a great asset to the state,” Lough said. “We have great relationships to a lot of the schools, we've demonstrated success.” He said the IEN project came in below budget and a year ahead of schedule. “And I think that same effort and deliverable is going to be executed (in the new project), if everything can proceed as we'd like it to.”

As for his move from the state to ENA, “It was just a good timing and there were some synergies there,” said Lough, who holds a degree in international studies from Idaho State University. “Basically they had a national guy that was here a lot, and it was just becoming too costly.” In addition to working on the Idaho project, Lough is working on an ENA bid for a major school network project in Wyoming. “My job as director of customer services is to ensure that all the end users, the customers of the IEN, are being served optimally,” he said, “and also to pursue other opportunities in other states.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Expert on laptop contract: ‘A really complex deal’

I spoke last night with Leslie Fiering, research vice president for Gartner Inc., a leading market research and advisory firm focusing on the information technology industry and a recognized expert in major IT acquisitions, about Idaho's $182 million laptop contract. She said lease deals are not uncommon, and said she couldn't say if it's a good deal or not for the state. “It's a really complex deal,” she said. But she pointed to a plus for the state: “They have a built-in refresh,” meaning the deal automatically calls for the laptops to be replaced every four years. “So that means that they're not struggling to keep old equipment going. It means that they're not scrambling to pull up capital budget every year, which could then get cut. Assuming they could keep this funded, it gives them a secure basis for operations.”

She added, “I work with school districts on a regular basis who are tying themselves into knots trying to figure out how they're going to get these devices into the hands of kids.”

On the down side for the state, she said, “There is liability on the accidental breakage,” which Fiering said could prove “contentious.” She said, “Kids are very tough on the machines. … I used to joke that the kids were second only to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in how rough they are on their computers, and I was corrected by the hardware manufacturers, the maintenance organizations and the school districts that I work with that I was wrong, the kids are worse than the soldiers. So I can understand why H-P did that to protect themselves.”

$182M laptop contract is just for rental, not purchase

Idaho's newly inked $182 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptop computers for its high school students contains a surprising feature - the state won't actually own the computers, and if they're lost, damaged or stolen, it'll have to pay H-P for them. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The contract price is $292.77 per year per laptop, with each unit on a four-year replacement schedule. That means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit, including wireless networks and training as well as the laptops themselves.

H-P, in the contract, agrees to provide a full manufacturer's warranty on the laptops for four years. An example: If the hard drive went out in the third year, they'd replace it. But they wouldn't cover accidental loss, damage or theft. State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the state doesn't expect much in the way of such losses. “In speaking with other schools and the state of Maine that have fully implemented one-to-one programs, they estimate just about 1 percent of devices a year, if even that, must be replaced or repaired outside the warranty,” she said. “We do not believe Idaho will be any different.”
 


Supplying every Idaho high school student with a laptop computer is a centerpiece of Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan, which goes before voters next week in three ballot measures. If voters reject Proposition 3, the laptop contract would be canceled. Luna has touted the contract as a bargain for the state; a copy was obtained by The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday under the Idaho Public Records Law.