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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.

Secret-donations group apparently giving in, will disclose donors tomorrow

Education Voters of Idaho, the group that's been fighting to keep secret its contributors who financed a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, apparently has given in and will reveal its donors tomorrow in accordance with a court order. “That's what it appears,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. “They said they were going to file, yes.”

Today, the group filed its C1 form, the initial reporting form required of political committees. It shows that EVI's chair is Debbie Field and its treasurer is Cordell Chigbrow. That information is identical to that reported for Parents for Education Reform, the group that purchased the TV ads after getting $200,000 handed over from EVI. Yesterday, 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered the group to disclose the sources of its funds under the state's Sunshine Law, and to do so by 3 p.m. on Wednesday.  “We're hopeful that they're going to do what the judge ordered and file the other reports,” Hurst said. If so, “They'll be online immediately.”

Attorney Christ Troupis had indicated he was considering appealing Wetherell's order to the Idaho Supreme Court, but no appeal was received there by the close of business today. Troupis didn't return a reporter's call this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Parents for Education Reform has filed its campaign finance report, showing that it got another $100,000 from EVI on Oct. 2, but refunded the payment back to the group  on Oct. 19. The PFER report also shows contributions of $50,000 from U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and $100,000 from StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group launched by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee whose mission is “transformative reform” of schools. As for its campaign activities in October, PFER reported spending another $100,000 Oct. 2 on broadcast advertising, on top of the $200,000 it spent earlier from EVI funds.

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.”

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.
  

Secret-donations group files to shift court case to federal court

The secret-donations group that's fighting an attempt by Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to force it to reveal its contributors before the election has filed a request to move the court case over the matter to federal court, the AP reports. The move by Education Voters of Idaho, which paid for more than $200,000 in statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, came just hours before a Boise judge is scheduled to hear the state's motion for a court order against the group. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

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.