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Contract: State must pay if laptops are damaged, lost or stolen

Here's a surprising feature of the state's new $182 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard for laptop computers for high school students: The company will retain title to the computers, and the state, which will just be renting them, will be liable for all risk of loss, including damage or theft. The contract, in Attachment 1 on Page 5, says, “Lessee,” which in this case is the state, “shall bear the entire risk of loss with respect to any asset damage, destruction, loss, theft, or governmental taking, whether partial or complete.” If a laptop is damaged, the state must have it repaired at state expense - within 60 days. If one is lost or stolen, the state would have to pay H-P for it.

The amount the state would have to pay would be the “casualty value,” which would be, “All amounts due to date of payment plus the remaining payments for the balance of the Schedule term plus $35.” The schedule term? Four years. The state has contracted to pay $292.77 per unit per year, with each unit on a four-year replacement schedule; that means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit.

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.”

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. In fact, H-P writes in its proposal that it “strongly recommends” an optional one-year accidental damage protection service that it provides for new laptops at a cost of $17 apiece. That's not covered by the contract, however. Neither is an optional service that would cover “No-Fault Replacement Service” for the computers. Schools or districts could purchase that additional service at a price of $4,750 for 10 incidents, according to the contract.

The contract includes a provision that H-P will provide extra units - 3 percent beyond those ordered - for “hot-spare replacement units.” That would allow a student whose computer stops working to get an immediate replacement, while the non-working one goes in for repair. But that's only for items covered by the manufacturer's warranty. “Those not covered under the four-year warranty would be in addition to the contract,” McGrath said.
  

What the contract says…

I'm still awaiting answers from the State Department of Education to a series of questions I had after reviewing the $182 million, eight-year contract between the state of Idaho and Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptop computers. But one thing is clear: The state's not getting the laptops for $249 apiece.

A fact sheet the department distributed on the day the contract was signed said, “Idaho is paying $249.77 per student/teacher for the managed service of providing the device, maintenance, security and technology support. If you include wireless infrastructure and professional development, the state is paying $292.77 per student/teacher.”

According to the contract, the state will pay $292.77 per laptop per year under a lease, and they're on a four-year replacement schedule. That means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit. At the end of the four years, the state is obligated to wipe the data from the laptops and let H-P pick them up, unless it wants to buy the units for $35 apiece. It also would have the option of buying them before the four years are up at various discounts: $147.56 after three years; $260.12 after two years; or $372.68 after one year.

Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, disputes the $1,171-per-unit figure, because the $292.77 is a “fully burdened” cost per unit that includes tech support, wireless system maintenance, training and more. (However, in addition to the $292.77 per unit per year, the contract calls for the state to pay H-P $5.5 million for “infrastructure and project startup cost.”)

“It's not just one device and you're paying for it every single year to get that device - you're paying for a lot more than that,” McGrath said. If you use the department's $249.77 figure instead, the state's cost per laptop would be $999 over the four-year period.

The $180 million-plus laptop contract…

Here it is - the $181,935,125 eight-year contract that the state of Idaho has signed with Hewlett-Packard Co. to supply laptop computers to every Idaho high school student and teacher. It may take a bit to load, but you can see the full contract here; it's 362 pages, making a rather large pdf. Some portions have been redacted “relating to HP trade secrets.” In response to my public records request, the State Department of Education provided the contract on paper only, saying, “the file was far too large to send electronically.” I took it straight to Kinko's, where my newspaper paid to have it scanned it so I could post it here for you to see.

The ‘selective enforcement’ argument…

Among the unsuccessful defenses that the secretive “Education Voters of Idaho” offered yesterday in court for its position that it shouldn't have to disclose its donors was “selective enforcement.” Attorney Christ Troupis noted that John Foster, co-executive director of the group, submitted an affidavit to which he attached 215 examples he dug up from over the years of corporations that donated to political committees in Idaho without turning the corporations themselves into political committees that fall under campaign finance laws. Among them: The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and Micron Technology.

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane responded, “The reason why corporations like Micron and Farm Bureau aren't under the microscope is because they weren't taking contributions.” He noted that Foster and partner Kate Haas, in affidavits submitted to the court, “both acknowledge that Education Voters of Idaho solicited contributions.” Kane also told the court, “A political committee doesn't necessarily have to be a corporation, but a corporation most certainly can be a political committee.”

Here's what 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell had to say about the “selective enforcement” argument: “I will point out that the issues that are addressed here, from my standpoint, are legal issues. I can appreciate Mr. Troupis' frustration with the arguments he's made related to selective enforcement or that they have been singled out, but as the Secretary of State is fully aware, if someone is dissatisfied with the way he is administering the law, the solution is at the ballot box - it is not in this courtroom. And so that is not going to be a major factor that this court is going to be looking at.”

Judge on secret donations: ‘Idaho’s law is clear and unambiguous’

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's court decision upholding Idaho's Sunshine Law and ordering a secret-donations group to reveal its donors by Wednesday. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. on Halloween. The group must “file all required further reports when required or face sanctions,” the judge wrote. Possible sanctions include fines and penalties contained in the state's Sunshine Law. In addition, anyone flouting a court order could be held in contempt by the court, and even jailed until they comply with the order.

Christ Troupis, attorney for EVI, said he's reviewing the decision and considering an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who sued to enforce the Sunshine Law's disclosure requirements, pointed to a clause in the law that forbids groups from concealing the true source of funds used in campaigns. Wetherell cited that clause from the law twice in his decision, once in bold-face. “Idaho law is clear and unambiguous,” he wrote. “There can be no anonymous contributions either in favor of or in opposition to Propositions 1, 2 and 3.” He also pointed to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a 2010 Washington case, Human Life of Washington Inc., that upheld that state's similar disclosure requirement.
  

Judge orders EVI to disclose donors

Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell has ruled in favor of the state of Idaho in its lawsuit seeking disclosure of the secret donors to a campaign against three Idaho ballot measures; Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. this Wednesday, Halloween. The group must “file all required further reports when required or face sanctions,” the judge wrote. You can read his 19-page decision here.

Wrote Wetherell, “A failure by the Defendants to follow the requirements of the Sunshine Initiative is in violation of the rights of Idaho citizens as provided by law, and a failure to grant injunctive relief at this time would permit the law to be violated with impunity and would result in irreparable harm to the voters of Idaho whose rights under the Sunshine Initiative the Secretary of State is charged with protecting.”

Ad Watch: Latest ad charges school reform laws hamper teachers

The latest campaign commercial opposing Idaho's school reform ballot measures draws on a variety of criticisms of the measures to suggest they hamper teachers in doing their jobs. “We want to give your children the best education - but the Luna laws make that harder,” says the ad, which is airing statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. The ad cites an array of criticisms of the measures, some directly related to the propositions and others more general, from school funding issues to parent fees.

“You have significant number of undecided, and I expect to some extent, bewildered voters who are trying to sort all of this out,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at Boise State University. “I think some bewildered voters vote no or don't vote at all. I'm not suggesting that is their intent, but I think it could be an unintended consequence.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Secret-donations arguments: ‘The court’s opportunity to let that sun shine’

4th District Judge Mike Wetherell, after taking close to an hour of arguments from both sides in the secret-donations case, said he's going to try to have his opinion out by 5 p.m. today. “I don't know whether I'll make it, but I'm going to attempt to,” he said. He added that the parties are “going to run out of here to the Supreme Court as soon as the opinion's done anyway, I'm sure,” and Christ Troupis, attorney for Education Voters of Idaho, laughed heartily.

Asked afterward, he said if the secretive group that ran statewide TV ads backing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 doesn't prevail today in its bid to head off the Secretary of State's demands that it reveal the sources of the money for the campaign under the Idaho Sunshine Law, he will appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.  “These are important issues,” Troupis said. “This needs to be a considered decision.”

He maintained that EVI, which was formed on the same day and by the same people as a political committee that placed the TV ads, is akin to the Idaho Statesman newspaper or Micron Corp. in engaging in politics - the newspaper through endorsing candidates, and Micron in donating corporate funds to a PAC. But Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane argued that EVI is different, and that its activities show a clear effort to evade the Sunshine law and avoid disclosure. “There is a need for disclosure. The public has a right to know,” Kane told the court. “This is the court's opportunity to let that sun shine.”

Trib: Vote No On All 3 Luna Laws

Only once have Idaho voters repudiated any law passed by the Legislature and enacted by their governor and that was nearly 80 years ago. Now is the time for Idahoans to take that step again.On the Nov. 6 ballot are the three Luna laws — measures schools Superintendent Tom Luna steamrollered through a compliant Idaho Legislature in 2011 over the objections of teachers, administrators and many parents. By waging political war on Idaho's teachers, the Luna laws would add to the burdens of a public school structure already buckling under the weight of budget cuts and a neglectful political elite/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Agree/disagree?

Lawmakers spar over laptop contract costs

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The eight-year, $180 million pact with Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptops required under public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul is dividing Idaho's Republican lawmakers. Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise said Friday during a meeting inside the Capitol the price was “double pretty much what we anticipated.” Sen. John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene countered it's only 10 percent above estimates. Who's right? In 2011, Luna estimated the five-year cost at $70.8 million, or $14.6 million annually. For the first five years of the actual H-P contract, the cost is $82 million, about 16 percent higher, conceded Luna spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. And over eight years, the average annual cost runs $22.5 million, well over Luna's estimate when calculated yearly. Voters weigh in on the computers and Luna's additional education changes Nov. 6.

Judge Mike Wetherell gets secret-donations case, hearing re-set to Monday

The secret-donations case has now been assigned to a new state judge and a new hearing date and time set. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell will hear from both sides Monday at 1:30, on the state's motion for a court order forcing Education Voters of Idaho to disclose the source of the more than $200,000 it collected for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, the “Students Come First” school reform measures. EVI has maintained it's exempt from the state Sunshine Law's requirement to disclose its contributors; the state strongly disagrees, and is seeking disclosure before the fast-approaching Nov. 6 election.

Secret-donations case bounced back to state court, but today’s hearing is off - EVI wants a new judge

Here's an update from AP reporter John Miller: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A lawsuit to force a group touting public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul to reveal still-secret financiers is back in state court. The group, Education Voters of Idaho, sought a shift to federal court, to help it fight Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demands. But on Friday, Ysursa's attorney and the group's lawyer, Christ Troupis, signed papers agreeing to contest the matter in 4th District Court. Even so, a hearing on Ysursa's lawsuit that had been set for Friday at 1:30 p.m. has been postponed ― and the original state judge removed from the case. Ysursa demands EVI disclose names of donors of more than $200,000 to broadcast ads promoting Luna's education changes before the Nov. 6 election. Troupis argues his group has the right to conceal donors' identities.

Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General's office, said, “My understanding is that the other side wants a different judge.” No new hearing date has yet been set. “But they are talking,” Cooper said, “and they're trying to get a new judge named and get  a hearing set for Monday.”


Legal motions fly back and forth in secret-donations case; fate of today’s hearing uncertain

The state of Idaho has filed a motion in federal court to remand the secret-donations case back to state court, after attorney Christ Troupis, representing Education Voters of Idaho, filed a motion yesterday to remove the case to federal court. Troupis claimed it should go there because the issue involves the First Amendment and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In legal documents filed in federal court this morning, the Idaho Attorney General's office writes that “not one word” of the Secretary of State's complaint against the secretive group was grounded in the 1st Amendment, the 14th Amendment, “or any other provision of federal law. The substantive law to be applied was the Idaho Sunshine Initiative found at Idaho Code 67-6601.” 4th District Judge Deborah Bail had scheduled a hearing for 1:30 p.m. today in state court on the state's bid for a court order forcing EVI to disclose its funding sources. It's now unclear whether that hearing will take place today or not.

The group funneled more than $200,000 in anonymous donations into statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, and is refusing Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demand that it disclose the donors under Idaho's Sunshine Law. You can read the state's latest filing here.

The state's lawyers argue that EVI is wrongly attempting to use the process of removing the case to federal court to delay disclosure until after the election, which is just 11 days away. “Defendants should not be able to use the processes of Federal District Court removal to postpone their day of reckoning under Idaho law until after the general election is over,” they write. They also argue that federal law clearly allows removal only when federal issues are cited in the original complaint, not when the defendant cites a federal issue in its defense.
  

Ad Watch: Teacher departures and the 2011 law changes…

The latest TV campaign commercial from opponents of Idaho's school reform propositions focuses on the number of Idaho teachers who have left the profession since the laws passed in 2011. “Since the Legislature passed Props 1, 2 and 3, over 1,800 Idaho teachers have left teaching,” the ad says. That claim is based on data compiled by the state Department of Education. The department's data shows that 1,884 certificated Idaho teachers left the profession of teaching in the 2011-2012 school year, a number that rose sharply from the 1,276 who left in the 2010-2011 year. Both those figures were way up from the 2009-2010 school year, in which the data show 716 Idaho teachers left the profession, a figure that at that point had been relatively stable for three years.

That means the ad's claim is correct - if anything, it understates the figures. The laws passed during the 2011 legislative session; that was the 2010-2011 school year. So, depending on when in the year the teachers departed, it's possible that as many as 3,160 Idaho school teachers have left the profession since the reform laws passed. Read my full ad watch story here at spokesman.com.

Lawmakers suffering some ‘sticker shock’ over $180M laptop contract

The AP reports that with the $180 million contract now signed for laptop computers for Idaho's high schools, lawmakers are suffering from sticker shock. In 2011, when lawmakers were considering the laptop plan, chief proponent and state schools Supt. Tom Luna and his staff estimated the cost for five years at $60.8 million. When costs for improving the wireless infrastructure are added to the equation, staff pegged the total five-year price tag at $70.8 million. Now, it's $180 million over eight years. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

SDE: ‘Buyout’ clause in laptops contract wouldn’t kick in ‘til after the election

Here's the answer from state Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath as to how soon the $14.2 million “buyout” clause kicks in in the state's $180 million laptop contract, requiring the state to pay the contractor if it cancels the contract: “The buyout would not kick in until the state begins incurring costs. The state does not plan to do so until after Nov. 6. Right now, the state is in the process of working with HP and HP’s partners to develop a project plan based on the contract that was signed Tuesday. This will be done between 30-60 days from now, per the contract.”

Also, it sounds like I'm not going to get the contract today. The SDE says their lawyers are still reviewing it before releasing it under the Idaho Public Records Law. “I would hope that you're going to get it tomorrow,” McGrath said.

State files for restraining order on secret-donations group

The state of Idaho today filed for a temporary restraining order against a secretive group that underwrote more than $200,000 in campaign ads in support of three school-reform ballot reform measures and has refused to disclose its funding source, and a judge set a hearing on the matter for Friday; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. 4th District Judge Deborah Bail will hold a hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.

The group, “Education Voters of Idaho,” incorporated in August and within the next 40 days, had transferred $200,350 to a political committee, Parents for Education Reform, the motion says. That group then immediately spent the money on the statewide TV ads. The contribution and expenditures “were made, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or through an agent or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity or identities of the source(s) of the contributions to EVI, which were in turn immediately spent for political purposes by” the second group, the state's motion says. It adds that Idaho's Sunshine law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, “prohibits gamesmanship by which nested political committees string together a daisy chain of contributions and expenditures that hide the true contributors.”

You can read the state's argument here on its motion for a temporary restraining order.
  

VanderSloot launches pro-school-reform TV ads showing Romney criticizing teachers union

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot is employing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to criticize unions and promote Tom Luna's education overhaul at the ballot box on Nov. 6. VanderSloot, an overhaul supporter, is paying for TV commercials showing Romney criticizing the teachers union. The National Education Association gave nearly $1.1 million to the campaign against Luna's education changes, which include limiting union bargaining power and requiring online classes. The VanderSloot-backed campaign commercial uses Romney, who is popular in Idaho, to suggest unions oppose the overhaul because it erodes their power. In the 30-second commercial, video footage from Romney taken from C-SPAN shows him describing the union as an organization that's lost its way by opposing changes to the nation's education system. VanderSloot owns Melaleuca, a direct-marketing home health products company.

Arithmetic and the $180 million contract…

I've heard a lot of questions today about the numbers behind the $180 million contract Idaho signed yesterday with Hewlett-Packard and partners to supply laptops to every Idaho high school student and teacher for the next eight years, under the “Students Come First” reform laws - the ones that are up for a possible repeal in the Nov. 6 election. Specifically, the state Department of Education said the contract equates to $249.77 per student or teacher per year for just the laptops, maintenance, security and tech support, or $292.77 if the costs of wireless infrastructure and professional development are added in.

According to the state's RFP for this project, the state estimated that 6,551 teachers and administrators would get laptops the first year, and it estimated the number of students, after a three-year phase-in, at 83,825. That's a total of 90,376 laptops. If you divide $180 million by 90,376, it comes out to $1,992 per laptop, not $250. However, the department specifically said it was paying that amount per laptop PER YEAR of the eight-year contract. So, multiply 90,372 laptops by eight years, and you get 723,008. Divide that number into $180 million, and the result is $249.

These may not be the exact numbers in the contract, as they're from the RFP as issued last spring; I have requested a copy of the contract under the Idaho Public Records Law. When I receive it, I will post it here.

Popkey: ‘Don’t mess with Big Ben’

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has a column today entitled “Don't mess with Big Ben,” in which he notes that backers of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 are taking on the state's most popular Republican official by defying his call to disclose their donors for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of the measures, as Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contends is required under Idaho's Sunshine law. Ysursa was the state's top vote-getter in both 2002 and 2010, out-polling every other contested candidate and averaging 76 percent of the vote.

Popkey writes, “In what appears a desperate attempt to keep secret embarrassing information about the contributions,” the heads of a group dubbed Education Voters of Idaho, Debbie Field and John Foster, are “linking Ysursa, a life-long Republican, with teachers unions the campaign calls 'thugs.' ” In an op-ed piece distributed Monday to Idaho newspapers, Field and Foster wrote, “Although efforts by the Secretary of State, the union and its allies have temporarily chilled our ability to fulfill our mission, we won't back down.” Popkey notes that Ysursa is going after the teachers unions for disclosure as well. Late Monday, Ysursa went to court seeking a judge's order that EVI disclose its donors prior to the election. You can read the full column here.

Popkey reports that Ysursa had private talks with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a leading backer of the propositions, to try to get the group to disclose its contributors. “This should have been vetted a lot more than it was,” Ysursa told Popkey. “Everybody's antenna should have gone up when they're going to give money anonymously.”

Luna on laptops: ‘This train has left the station’

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how today, two weeks before the November election, in which Idaho voters could cancel the whole program, the state of Idaho signed a $180 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard to supply laptop computers to every Idaho high school student. If voters turn thumbs down on Proposition 3 in two weeks, the contract will be canceled.

But Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, author of the law that's being tested in Proposition 3, said, “This train has left the station when it comes to transforming our schools and the 21st century learning opportunity. We'll see what happens on election day, but it's not going to stop the transformation that's happening.” Mike Lanza, chairman of the Vote No on Props 1,2,3 campaign, said, “I think that the outcome of the election will determine whether anything goes forward.”

Otter: A ‘big day’ with Idaho company successful bidder for laptop contract

Gov. Butch Otter called this a “big day,” announcing that Hewlett-Packard Corp. has been named the successful bidder to supply laptop computers to Idaho high school students. “It's a proud moment for me,” Otter said, “that we had an Idaho company that was the successful bidder and that will lead us into that 21st Century classroom.”
  

Ysursa goes to court to force disclosure of secret donors

Idaho's Secretary of State went to court today, seeking a court order to make a defiant secret-donations group reveal the source of more than $200,000 spent on statewide campaign commercials backing three controversial school-reform measures. “The voters made it clear, when they passed the Sunshine initiative, that public disclosure is an essential element of Idaho elections,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said in a statement. “The citizens want to know where the money comes from and how it's spent. That's been the policy and the law of this state for 38 years. My job is to enforce that law.”

You can read Ysursa's full statement here, and read the state's 13-page complaint here, filed today in 4th District Court in Ada County; read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Idaho's Sunshine law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, says its purpose is “to promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns and those promoting or opposing legislation.”

Ysursa: Group welcome to campaign - just needs to disclose donors

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the developments so far today on the secret-donations group, Education Voters of Idaho, and its vow to step back up its campaign in favor of three Idaho school reform ballot measures without disclosing who's funding it. “We won't back down,” Education Voters of Idaho co-founders John Foster and Debbie Field said in a news release.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he has no problem with the group conducting whatever campaign activities it wishes - as long as it complies with the state's campaign finance disclosure laws. “I commend them for their involvement,” Ysursa said. “All we're after is disclosure of contributors. … We're out to enforce the provisions of the state's Sunshine laws.”

Last week, the group offered to refund the $200,000-plus in contributions rather than disclose the donors, but the state today deemed that unacceptable. “The money has been received, and the money has already been spent,” Ysursa said. “It's hard to undo that.” He said, “We think our law matters. … Pre-election disclosure is crucial.”

State to secret-donors group: You must disclose donors, so must IEA, NEA

The state of Idaho has sent a formal response to Christ Troupis, attorney for Education Voters of Idaho, the secret-donations group backing the school reform ballot measures, Propositions 1, 2, and 3, calling the group's position “not acceptable” and reiterating that the state believes the group is “a political committee that must comply with the reporting requirements of Idaho Code 67-6607.”

The letter, from Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore, says, “EVI's status as a Section 501 (c)(4) corporation has no bearing on the issue of its status as a political committee or not. Any corporation that receives donations that are in turn spent in support of or opposition to ballot measures is a political committee when it exceeds the monetary thresholds of Idaho Code 67-6602(p) without regard to whether promoting or opposing the ballot measures is the corporation's principal mission or only part of a larger mission.”

He adds, “You are correct that the IEA and NEA are in many ways similar to the EVI with regard to receiving contributions and in turn forwarding them to other political committees. That is why similar demands are also being directed to them.”

The letter also responds to Troupis' contention that the state's demand that the group disclose its donors violates the group's 1st Amendment rights. “In the absence of the most extreme circumstances, e.g., where persons who exercise their First Amendment right might be in danger if their identities became known, there is no First Amendment right to keep one's significant contributions to political speech secret,” Gilmore wrote. “The Secretary of State is aware of no such circumstances here.” You can read the full letter here.

Defiant secret-donations group to restart its pro-Props 1,2,3 campaign

A shadowy group that raised and spent more than $200,000 in anonymous contributions to fund statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform referenda, issued a defiant news release today headed, “Founders: 'We won't back down,'” asserting that it'll resume its activities to “talk to voters about education reform and make sure they understand the education issues on Idaho's ballot” in the final two weeks before the election - despite a legal dispute with the Idaho Secretary of State over the legality of the group not disclosing its contributors.

The group also distributed an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers today, asserting that it was formed because “for too long, Idaho parents have been left on the sidelines of the political debate over education,” because organizations represent school administrators, school board members and teachers, but “the most important voices in this process are often lost or outright ignored - there are too few groups advocating for the rights of parents with school-age children.” That overlooks the Idaho PTA, a statewide organization with thousands of members.

According to its website, “Idaho PTA is the largest parent organization in the state” and is “an organization dedicated to the welfare of children and youth.” At the Idaho PTA's annual convention in April, keynote speakers included state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, discussing the school reform measures, and national PTA President-Elect Otha Thornton. The Idaho PTA's legislative priorities this year were education funding, parent involvement and responsibility, endowment land management for the benefit of schools, and promoting child nutrition, health and safety. That group hasn't taken a position for or against the reform measures, but has been urging its members to research the measures and cast their votes accordingly.

John Foster, co-founder of Education Voters of Idaho, and former longtime Idaho state Rep. Debbie Field, R-Boise, who's also been the longtime campaign manager for Gov. Butch Otter, say in the op-ed that their group suffered “attacks,” showing “just how dangerous a powerful group of motivated parents will be to a politicized system in desperate need of improvement and change.” Foster said the group's statewide TV commercial wasn't pulled, but completed its two- to three-week run; the group then suspended all its activities, but now will restart all of them, despite the legal dispute with the state. “A decision about further television advertising hasn't been made yet,” Foster said. You can read the op-ed piece here.
  

Attorney for secretive pro-school reform group maintains it doesn’t have to disclose donors

Last week, the state of Idaho sent a letter to Education Voters of Idaho and its attorney, asking the secretive group to disclose the source of more than $200,000 donated to another group, Parents for Education Reform, to fund TV commercials that aired across the state supporting Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the Idaho ballot - or show why it wasn't required to do so. The two groups share chairs, boards and the same address. Now, attorney Christ Troupis has sent a four-page letter back to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contending that the newly formed EVI has no more duty to file campaign disclosures as a political committee than the Idaho Education Association or the National Education Association, both of which donated large sums to the No on Props 1, 2, 3 campaign.

In the letter, Troupis offers to have PFER refund the money back to EVI, but says EVI won't disclose its donors. “My client's First Amendment right to Freedom of Association and Freedom of Speech have been chilled and severely infringed by the unwarranted demands and threats of legal action made by your office,” Troupis writes; you can read his letter here. Troupis is the same attorney who represented the Idaho Republican Party in its closed-primary lawsuit against the state. The money in question went to pay for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of the school reform propositions, with the slogan, “Education reform for the 21st century is as simple as 1, 2, 3.”

Idaho Code 67-6602 defines a political committee as one that “receives contributions and makes expenditures in an amount exceeding five hundred dollars ($500) in any calendar year for the purpose of supporting or opposing one (1) or more candidates or measures.” The Secretary of State's office has contended that EVI is a political committee; the group says it's not. Ysursa is expected to have some response to Troupis' letter Monday; click below for a full report from AP reporter John MIller. “Disclosure of money given by Sept. 30 is the goal,” Ysursa told The Associated Press today while meeting with state lawyers in his office.

Ad Watch: Latest anti-school reform ad charges measure treats kids like ‘widgets’

The latest TV campaign commercial from opponents of the education reform propositions on Idaho's November ballot focuses on Proposition 2, the teacher merit-pay measure, suggesting that Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna wants to “treat children like widgets,” a claim he disputes. The measure sets up a new merit-pay bonus system for Idaho teachers, allowing teachers to earn bonuses if their entire school shows growth in student test scores on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test. The law also allows bonuses for other student-achievement measures set by individual school districts, and next year, would cover additional bonuses for teachers who take leadership roles or hold hard-to-fill positions. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Read the ‘Students Come First’ RFP…

Here's a link to the full 79-page RFP, with attachments, for Idaho's “Students Come First” laptop computer contract, obtained by The Spokesman-Review under Idaho's public records law. The eight-year contract to provide and maintain laptop computers for every Idaho high school student and teacher, along with setting up and maintaining wireless networks in every Idaho high school, is worth more than $100 million; it would be renewable for up to 16 years. After the state didn't get competitive bids in response to the Request for Proposals in June, it began negotiating with potential providers; it's now negotiating with up to half a dozen. State Purchasing Director Bill Burns said the RFP still is “the basis for every negotiation.” Essentially, companies are being asked indivdually how they can provide what's in it or the closest they can get to what's in it.

The process has dragged out well beyond original timeframes, which envisioned the first batch of laptops in the hands of teachers and principals this month; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

‘Students Come First’ laptop rollout slips behind schedule; no vendor selected yet

The first round of more than 6,000 laptop computers, one for every high school teacher and administrator, was supposed to be out in Idaho's schools this month under the “Students Come First” school reform plan, but holdups in finding a suitable vendor have pushed that way back. After canceling a bidding process in June for lack of competitive bids, the state is now negotiating with up to a half-dozen potential providers of the computers, with hopes of picking one in the coming weeks and getting them out in the second semester.

At stake is an eight-year contract worth more than $100 million, under which the provider would supply and maintain laptops for every Idaho high school student, provide technical support, and set up and maintain wireless networks in the Idaho schools. “It's the whole ball of wax,” said Idaho Division of Purchasing Director Bill Burns. “It's a pretty big contract.”

The state has budgeted $2.56 million for the first round of laptops this year, an average of $391 apiece. But the bidder will set the price, and it's unclear what will happen if the bid comes in higher than that. Meanwhile, a clause in the contract will state that the whole thing goes away if voters repeal the program on Nov. 6; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.