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Both sides are standing by their conflicting versions of what was said yesterday in the Luna-Cronin clash at the City Club of Boise, shown here, when, just after Rep. Brian Cronin's opening remarks, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna leaned over to him and expressed displeasure about Cronin's remarks. This photo, taken by Dan King, photographer for the City Club, captures the moment.
I requested the audio from Boise State Public Radio, which broadcasts City Club forums, and will broadcast this one on Saturday evening; the forum also is scheduled to air on KTVB's 24/7 channel twice tomorrow, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (KTVB also has posted video of the forum here; the exchange comes about 28 minutes in, near the end of Part 1). Cronin maintains that Luna said something like, “That's the biggest piece of bullshit I've ever heard.” Luna maintains he said something like, “I could not believe the rhetoric in your speech” or “I could not believe what you said in your speech.” After the disputed comment, Cronin says “Mm-kay,” or laughs, and then Luna makes a comment that includes the word “lobbyist,” something like, “I tell you what, I'll never call you a lobbyist if you don't know what your roles are.” At that point, the audio cuts out because the moderator began speaking.
The audio is very difficult to make out, because Luna is practically whispering in Cronin's ear while the audience is applauding loudly. Cronin said he has “no doubt” that Luna made the BS comment; Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “Supt. Luna does not recall ever using that language yesterday.” You can listen for yourself (try some good headphones); here's a version with noise reduction that I found a little clearer; and here's one without. So far I've heard mixed verdicts from those who listen: Some hear one thing, others hear another…
The latest statewide TV commercial to air in the battle over Idaho's controversial school reform laws comes from opponents of the laws, and focuses on what may be their toughest sell in the right-to-work state: Proposition 1, which restricts collective bargaining rights for teachers. The ad says the laws “ignore our teachers' concerns,” and “prohibit teachers from negotiating important things like overcrowded classrooms, supplies and student safety.”
The claim about negotiations is accurate. SB 1108, which Proposition 1 would uphold, changed state law so that teacher negotiations can only be on “matters related to compensation of professional employees.” Prior to the law, teacher contracts around the state routinely addressed other issues as well, from class size to bell schedules to furnace safety inspections.
“In Students Come First legislation, the teacher unions are targeted and their collective bargaining rights have been severely limited,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus of public policy. The ad tries to focus that issue to show “the net effect of this legislation is a negative effect on teachers and ultimately on students. … I think that's fairly effective,” he said. However, he noted, “How much that will resonate with the Idaho public is yet to be seen, in a right-to-work state where unions are not that popular.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
On Monday, Oct. 15th - that's a week from Monday - the League of Women Voters, Transform Idaho and the AAUW are sponsoring an educational panel discussion on Idaho's school reform referenda; the forum, which is free and open to the public, will be at Centennial High School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. “The objective is to clarify the referendums and the impact of the resulting vote on Idaho's educational system,” the groups said in a news release announcing the event.
The panel will include Ken Burgess, partner at Veritas Advisors and campaign manager of the Yes4Idaho campaign, and Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, representing the “yes” side; and Mike Lanza, chair of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, and Cindy Wilson, government teacher at Centennial High, representing the “no” side. Current perspective on how the laws are working in the Boise and Meridian school districts will be provided by Don Coberly, Boise schools superintendent; A.J. Balukoff, Boise school board president; Eric Exline, Meridian School District community relations director; and Anne Ritter, vice chair of the Meridian School Board.
Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at BSU, will moderate. Those attending are encouraged to arrive by 6:15 p.m.; Centennial High School is located at Cloverdale and McMillan roads in Boise.
Here's how fiery the debate between state schools chief Tom Luna and Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, got at the City Club of Boise today: After the debate, Cronin accused Luna of grabbing his arm after his opening remarks and berating him. “He grabbed my arm rather forcefully and got in my face and said, 'That's the biggest bullshit I've ever heard,'” Cronin said. “I looked at the people at the lead table and I think they saw that I was visibly alarmed, shaken, but that's what he said. He grabbed my arm hard enough such that I spilled my water. … When he tried to touch me again, I told him not to touch me.”
Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “He never used that language. That's completely inaccurate.” The exchange wasn't picked up on the event's microphones, and Luna denied afterward that he'd become angry with Cronin at any point during the forum. “I think we both were passionate,” he said.
Luna said, “I was surprised he would use his 12 minutes of comments for personal attacks against me rather than talking about what is in the laws. After his remarks, I leaned over to him and said something to that effect.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
State schools Supt. Tom Luna made a comment shortly before the end of today's City Club of Boise forum on school reform, saying, “Any carpenter can build a barn, any jackass can kick it down.” Asked what he meant by that, Luna said afterward he was repeating a quote that he thought he'd heard attributed to Ronald Reagan; a similar comment is often attributed to Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn. “It's not original to me,” Luna said. “We've waited for almost two years for the opposition that originally called themselves 'reasonable reform' to bring forth reasonable reform, and they've brought nothing. All they've done is attack, attack, attack.”
Luna said he had expected that by now, “Idahoans would be having a debate” between his reform plan and an alternative one from opponents.
Rep. Brian Cronin, asked about Luna's comment, said, “The superintendent is building a rickety barn that is about to fall over anyway. We just need to give it a little nudge. It wasn't a barn that was worth building anyway.”
The City Club of Boise forum has wrapped up with thunderous applause after an extremely lively debate between state schools Supt. Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin over the school reform laws, Props 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot.
Rep. Brian Cronin said national scientific studies have shown no link between merit pay for teachers and improved student achievement. State schools Supt. Tom Luna countered that it's working in New Plymouth. “If you really are interested in the truth, take a look at New Plymouth … they've been doing it for 10 years,” he said.
Asked why the campaign commercials against the reforms haven't focused as much on Prop. 1, the teacher contract bill, Cronin said he thinks it will be addressed. He said the measure removed teachers' ability to talk with districts about issues ranging from curriculum to scheduling as part of annual negotiations; Luna countered that they can still talk about those things in other settings.
Luna said when textbooks first were printed, no one said they were replacing teachers - they were a new tool. Cronin responded, “I don't know a single CEO, a single small business owner who has said you know what the problem is? The problem with kids these days is that they don't understand technology. … Technology's not the challenge.”
Rep. Brian Cronin was asked how he reconciles his role as a state legislator with his role as a paid consultant for the No on Props 1,2,3 campaign. “I reconcile it this way,” he told the City Club of Boise. “This is very simple. I have not said a thing as part of this campaign, and yes I am a paid consultant, that I hadn't said previously as a member of the Legislature. And my consitituents are happy that I'm here. They're happy that I'm standing up and fighting these laws that I have been fighting from the very beginning.” He said his work for the campaign might actually hurt his consulting business, by alienating potential customers.
“It isn't necessarily a wise decision as a businessman, but I am that passionate about these issues,” Cronin said. “I wanted to work for this campaign, and yes I am going to fulfill my term in the legislature, because these are things I believe. … My constituents know that they want me representing them, and they want me representing them in this role.”
Rep. Brian Cronin, at today's City Club of Boise forum on school reform, said, “Technology plays an important role as a tool, but it is not an end in itself, and it is being treated as such in this. … There is no evidence to suggest that this one-to-one laptop program produces sustainable student achievement.” He called it “a dangerous experiment.”
State schools Supt. Tom Luna responded, “The state of Maine has been doing this one-to-one ratio of students to laptops for 10 years and they start in the 7th grade.” He said, “Technology is not the silver bullet, or it would be the only thing you would find in Students Come First. … We changed the way we manage our labor at the local level, we changed the way we compensate teachers, we changed the way we offer education and educational opportunities.”
State schools Supt. Tom Luna was asked about a deteriorating relationship between teachers and himself. “This divide is not between teachers and me,” he said. “It is between union leaders. … They spent $185,000 to unseat me, this is the union leaders. They have never dealt with me in good faith. From the day I was elected in 2006 they began to orchestrate and organize against me … (and) feed teachers misinformation.” Said Luna, “There is not a level of distrust between teachers and myself - it's the teachers union that has fostered this.”
Rep. Brian Cronin responded, “Folks, the teachers union is made up of teachers.” He said two-thirds of Idaho teachers belong to the teachers union. “They feel disrespected, they feel ignored.”
The first question from the audience was for state schools Supt. Tom Luna, asking why he didn't unveil the reform plan until after he was re-elected in 2010. Luna's response: “I've ran on this platform three times and made it very, very clear about the changes,” he said. “I've tried to bring about the changes in previous legislation. We tried pay for performance before.” Luna said the ideas behind the reform plan have always been in his election promises.
The second question, for Rep. Brian Cronin, asked if voters reject Props 1, 2, and 3, what new legislation will be introduced. Cronin suggested re-examining middle schools, because “anyone who's been through middle school knows that it's a miserable experience,” more teacher mentoring, and higher-quality teacher prep programs. “There are any number of ideas that we could talk about,” he said. “The thing that's so troubling about all this is that we were never asked the question previously.”
Luna countered that opponents made no alternative proposals, making his plan the only one on the table.
Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, in his opening statement today, said the “Students Come First” school reform laws were not reforms. “They turned a temporary fiscal crisis into long-term permanent underfunding,” he said, charging that they were used by political leaders to justify under-funding schools. “The process by which this scheme was concocted violates every principle of good lawmaking,” Cronin said. “It excluded the experts.” As a result, he said, Idaho teacher morale dropped, and the number of Idaho teachers leaving the profession soared. “When teachers are demoralized and devalued, it's Idaho's children who pay the price … as we witness a mass exodus of some of our best and brightest teachers,” Cronin said.
“The so-called Students Come First was never about students,” Cronin declared. “The Luna laws were a fiscal crisis plan, not a reform plan.” He called the reforms a plan for “education on the cheap.”
He said, “Laws that mandate spending don't generate money. Taxes generate money. … The Luna laws created new spending but don't tell us where that money comes from. (Initally), in a rare moment of candor, we were told that that money would actually come from laying off teachers. … Now they just don't say it any more.” He said, “It is a shell game. It is a bait and switch con.”
Said Cronin, “Here's the net effect of the Luna laws. We will have fewer teachers, but more laptops.” Or, he said, districts that don't want to cut teachers will ask local voters for property tax override levies, as close to 80 percent of Idaho's school districts already have. Cronin called those locally approved new property tax levies “a 26 percent tax increase, just since the Luna laws were rolled out.” He said Idaho's electorate has been “voting with their feet and voting with their wallets” to say they want schools better funded.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is speaking first at today's City Club of Boise forum. “About 30 states have passed some form of education reform in the past two years,” Luna said. “Education reform in the state of Idaho is absolutely necessary, not because we have bad schools, in fact in the state of Idaho, we have good schools. … But in the world that we live in today, it isn't whether we have good schools, the question is, is good good enough?”
Luna said not enough Idaho high school students are furthering their education after high school, and those who do aren't succeeding. “It should be alarming and unacceptable to all,” he said. He said that's the focus of his “Students Come First” reforms. “As a result of Students Come First, we now have high academic standards in place,” he said. “We didn't have that before.”
He noted that while there's been lots of focus on the reform plans to add technology at high schools, the laws also included funding for technology boosts throughout the schooling system. Luna also pointed to the large number of school districts that applied to be among the first group to get laptop computers for their high school students. “They know that these devices are not replacing teachers, or 85 percent of them would not have volunteered to be first,” Luna said.
He also touted the laws' changes to teacher pay and contracts, including removing seniority from layoff decisions. “Eight in 10 teachers will receive a bonus this year. Why? Because they have worked together to improve a whole school with student achievement,” Luna said. He said once the laws are fully implemented, “Every high school in Idaho is a one-to-one learning environment. … Teachers and students will no longer have to wait their turn for the computer lab because every classroom is a computer lab.” He said the tech boosts will mean that “every student has equal access and opportunity no matter where they live in Idaho, and that just didn't exist before.”
He said, “We accomplished all this without raising anyone's taxes, at any level.”
Moderator Jim Weatherby is welcoming the crowd to the City Club of Boise, but said that first, as a professor, he wanted to lecture the crowd: “One of City Club's highest values is promoting civility,” Weatherby declared. Therefore, he asked the crowd not to applaud, cheer, or express approval or disapproval. He noted that he'll be taking written questions from the audience to pose for the speakers as part of the program, Tom Luna and Brian Cronin.
Weatherby noted that Idaho has only had four other referenda on its ballot in its history; the school reform laws have prompted three referenda on the November ballot this year.
There's a sellout crowd at the City Club of Boise today for the forum on the “Students Come First” school reform laws, featuring state schools Supt. Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin. In addition to the lunch crowd of close to 400, the listening-only seats in back are full too; the crowd includes 85 students from local high schools.
Idaho state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, face off today at the City Club of Boise over the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which Luna wrote and of which Cronin is a leading opponent, along with serving as a consultant to the campaign against the laws. Idahoans will be asked in the November election whether they want to keep the laws or not; a yes vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 keeps the laws, a no vote repeals them. I'll be live-blogging the session today.
For a backgrounder on the issues from the Spokesman-Review Election Center, click here.
An Idaho grandfather and former school district superintendent is suing the state of Idaho and all its school districts, charging that cash-strapped schools are violating the Idaho Constitution by increasingly charging fees for what are supposed to be “free, common schools.” Russ Joki's twin kindergartner granddaughters were each charged $45 to register for kindergarten this year, and his grandson, a high school junior, had to pay $85 in fees to enroll at Meridian High. But a 1970 Idaho Supreme Court decision specifically found educational fees for public schools unconstitutional in the state. “I don't think it passes the constitutional test at all,” Joki said, “and I think someone has to raise that question.”
His lawsuit was filed today in 4th District Court in Ada County; it seeks class-action status on behalf of all schoolchildren and parents in the state of Idaho. In addition to Joki, plaintiffs include his grandson, for whom he is legal guardian; his daughter and her twin 5-year-olds; and 15 other individuals from around the state, all grandparents of Idaho public school students.
In addition to charging fees, Joki's lawsuit targets Idaho schools' practice of distributing lists of specific school supplies for parents to purchase, from specific brands of colored pencils and crayons to reams of paper, boxes of tissue and dry-erase markers. “It's occurring statewide,” Joki said. “These supply lists are a substitute for essential educational materials that the district needs to provide. Instead, the burden has been placed on parents and patrons.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
A new television commercial touting Idaho's controversial school reform laws makes claims that are accurate, but still mislead voters about the impact of the reform laws. That's because they focus on obscure points in two of the three laws, without getting into the overall thrust of the measures. “It's not inaccurate, but it's not focused on the real meat and potatoes of the three propositions that have generated so much controversy,” said David Adler, a political scientist and director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. “This is a classic campaign approach where you honeycomb your message with sweets that will appeal to everybody, without having to rehash the controversial measures.”
You can read my full ad-watch story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho teachers are leaving the profession in bigger numbers, the Associated Press reports, with more than 1,800 making their exit last year. More than 957 of the 1,884 teachers who left the profession during the 2011-2012 school year cited “personal reasons;” the departures increased significantly from the previous year, when 1,276 teachers left the profession, and the year before, when 716 exited.
While opponents of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reforms have cited the laws as prompting more teachers to leave, Luna maintains the economy was more of a factor in the departures. His office also noted an increase in the number of individuals seeking an alternative, quicker route to certification as teachers in Idaho in the last year; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
The latest campaign commercial in the fight over whether to repeal Idaho's controversial school reform laws is running statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. John Foster, a lobbyist and political consultant who's behind the new “Parents for Education Reform” PAC that's running the ad, declined to identify its financial backers. “We'll file our disclosure reports at the appropriate time, but we're happy to receive enough support to get this ad off the ground, and hopefully do more,” Foster said. “This PAC is just one piece of a larger effort to spread the message of education reform in Idaho, and we'll be announcing more about that in the coming days. It's an effort that is not wholly about this campaign or this election season, it's bigger than that and will go beyond and past November.”
Foster, a former executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said he's enjoying working with Debbie Field, the PAC's chairwoman and Gov. Butch Otter's campaign manager, who also is a former GOP lawmaker and longtime GOP activist. “Debbie and I have been on opposite sides of the political fence before in campaign season, but we're on the same side in this issue, which is a bipartisan one,” Foster said. However, the three reform laws passed the Legislature without a single Democratic vote in favor of any of the three; Republicans were split on the measures.
On Proposition 1, which passed as SB 1108 regarding teacher contracts, every legislative Democrat opposed the bill along with 17 Republicans. On Proposition 2, which passed as SB 1110 regarding merit-pay bonuses, every legislative Democrat opposed the bill along with 21 Republicans. Proposition 3, which passed as SB 1184 on technology and funding, was opposed by every legislative Democrat and 21 legislative Republicans.
Foster declined to name other Democrats involved with the PAC. He said he's been in touch with the “Yes for Education” PAC that was formed as the main campaign organization pushing for support for the measures. His ad focuses on one fairly obscure piece of each of two of the laws: A requirement in the teacher-contract bill to include parent input in teacher evaluations; and funding for up to a year of college credit for some students under the technology law, which also funds laptop computers for all high school students and requires online classes. It also lauds the merit-pay bonus program.
“The overall goal of the ad is to engage voters, engage Idahoans, and tell them about these reforms and remind them that it's critical that if they want these reforms in place, they need to go vote in November,” Foster said.
Gov. Butch Otter, asked about the new PAC that's running a TV commercial in favor of the “Students Come First” school reform laws, said, “That's the one that John Foster is running.” Otter said, “There were other groups that came to us. … It was sort of a division of labor, if you will.” The governor said he's involved with the group “Yes for Idaho Education,” the main PAC campaigning in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, but other groups also are getting involved, “even private citizens, like Frank VanderSloot,” Otter said. “He does his 'Community Page,'” VanderSloot's customary full-page newspaper ads. “That's independent.”
Otter said Foster, a former aide to then-Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, “came in early on and he said, 'I think what you've done is great. I've got kids in school.'” Otter said, “He initiated some discussions with Tom Luna and with myself.”
A new PAC called “Parents for Education Reform” has filed paperwork with the Idaho Secretary of State's office, and is running a new TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the education reform referenda. Debbie Field, former drug czar for Gov. Butch Otter and his former campaign chief, is listed as the PAC's chairwoman; its treasurer is Cordell Chigbrow, who also served as treasurer for Otter's re-election campaign. The Idaho Secretary of State's office reported that the new PAC filed its paperwork on Sept. 21; Field couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
The main PAC that Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna formed earlier to push the three measures, “Yes for Idaho Education,” said it had no involvement in the new TV commercial. “I appreciate the help,” said Ken Burgess, spokesman for Yes for Idaho Education. “There's lots of different groups out there trying to be helpful.”
A “yes” vote on the three propositions would uphold the three school reform laws that Luna and Otter pushed through the Legislature in 2011; a “no” vote would repeal them.
The elected Boise School Board has announced it's endorsing a “no” vote on all three school reform referenda on the November ballot, Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Board President AJ Balukoff said, “We have an obligation as the governing body of the Boise School District to use research, best practice and data to provide the best education possible for our students. This includes communicating the implications of new laws for our students, parents, teachers, and our community.”
The board, in a news release, said, “The Students Come First legislation restricts what school boards are allowed to negotiate with their teachers, establishes a pay-for-performance bonus system for teachers, diverts funding from local districts to pay for laptops for all high school students, and requires online courses for graduation.” Balukoff said, “These three laws politicize public education by taking authority and discretion from locally elected school boards and concentrating it in the Office of the State Superintendent.” You can read the board's full statement on the laws here.
Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter has issued a statement urging a “yes” vote on the three measures. In response to a television commercial that's being aired statewide by the laws' opponents, Otter, in a written statement sent to KTVB-TV, wrote, “I didn't sign an unfunded mandate into law, and I didn't sign a tax increase into law. What I signed into law was a way to ensure equity and excellence for our students, opportunities for our teachers and accountability for local school trustees. There's plenty of truthful information available to help voters understand why it's important to vote YES for education reform. Don't believe the union bosses.”
State Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson (pictured) again criticized an ad campaign urging voters to overturn state schools superintendent Tom Luna's Teachers Come First education overhaul. The talking points from Peterson aren't new. He has criticized opponents' radio ads that said the student laptop purchase program is an unfunded mandate. But as opponents have taken their campaign to TV, Peterson has ratcheted up the rhetoric. “Do not give into these underhanded tactics of the leaders of the teachers’ union. They are opposed to education reform in Idaho, and it is a shame to see they are willing to go to any lengths to stop reform from taking place — including lying to Idaho’s families and taxpayers.” Heading closer to the final month, this campaign is getting uglier/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: I'm already fed up with attack ads — and we still have 6 weeks to go. How do you handle all the TV mud slinging during political campaigns?
The hottest election issue of the season in Idaho - possible repeal of the state's controversial new school reform laws - has yielded the first statewide TV campaign commercial, and it makes some questionable claims. “Proposition 3 replaces teachers with computers by requiring that taxpayers fund laptops for high school students,” the ad says. “The Legislature failed to fully fund the laptops required by Proposition 3, so our property taxes could increase.”
Actually, one of the main things the reform laws did was write formulas into state law guaranteeing funding for the laptops into future years. The laws made the laptop program a new “statutory requirement” within Idaho's public schools budget, just like busing, border contracts or salaries and benefits.
“Ironically, the fact that those laptops are funded strengthens their first argument, that laptops are replacing teachers, or funds that otherwise could be devoted to teachers,” said political scientist David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. “In a lot of ways, it's unfortunate, because they have some pretty good arguments on their side, but they've just undercut their position by misstating the issue of legislative funding.” You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.
Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna issued this statement:
“We are aware the laws would not be officially repealed until the Board of Canvassers meets. We continue to work with the Attorney General’s office to ensure we not only have the legal authority at the state to distribute these bonuses, but our local school districts also have the legal authority at the local level to pay bonuses to the Idaho teachers who earned and deserve these bonuses. As our conversations with legal counsel have highlighted, the law contains multiple dates: November 15 as well as December 15. I have been fighting for better compensation for Idaho teachers through base salaries and pay-for-performance for 15 years now, and no one wants to pay these bonuses more than I do. I will find any way legally possible to distribute this money to Idaho’s teachers, not just this year but every year. The only reason we are having these discussions today and facing uncertainty regarding this additional pay for teachers is because the teachers’ union put Proposition 2 on the ballot. They are the only group that opposes pay-for-performance, and while their reasons for opposing it continue to change, their opposition remains the same. The fact is that if the union is successful in repealing Proposition 2, Idaho teachers will not have the opportunity to earn up to $8,000 a year in bonuses.”
Here's a new wrinkle in the ongoing dispute about timing of the first merit-pay bonuses to teachers under the new “Students Come First” school reform laws, in which the Idaho Education Association has been accusing state schools Supt. Tom Luna of holding the bonuses hostage, to be paid out only if the reform laws are upheld; and Luna has been insisting he's constrained by timelines and can't send the bonuses out before the election. Turns out, it actually doesn't matter. Teachers who earned the bonuses last year will get them this fall regardless of the outcome of the referenda vote on Nov. 6/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.
It’s the law: Turns out teachers will get first merit-pay bonuses, regardless of election result Nov. 6
Here's a new wrinkle in the ongoing dispute about timing of the first merit-pay bonuses to teachers under the new “Students Come First” school reform laws, in which the Idaho Education Association has been accusing state schools Supt. Tom Luna of holding the bonuses hostage, to be paid out only if the reform laws are upheld; and Luna has been insisting he's constrained by timelines and can't send the bonuses out before the election. Turns out, it actually doesn't matter. Teachers who earned the bonuses last year will get them this fall regardless of the outcome of the referenda vote on Nov. 6. Here's why:
State law requires the bonuses to be sent out on or before the Nov. 15 state payment to school districts. Because the reform laws all had emergency clauses added to them making them take effect immediately - even if they're later overturned by referendum - they're in effect now. If voters turn down the referenda, voting no on the propositions and repealing the reform laws, that move doesn't take effect instantly on the day of the election. Instead, under Idaho Code 34-1813, the repeal of the laws would take effect when the state Board of Canvassers certifies the results of the election, and the governor issues a proclamation declaring those results. The law says the measures would be “in full force and effect as the law of the state of Idaho from the date of said proclamation.”
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, asked about the process, said the Board of Canvassers, which consists of himself, the state controller, and the state treasurer, is scheduled to meet Nov. 21st to certify the results of the Nov. 6 election. “I think everybody was wondering that,” Ysursa said. “We would prepare this proclamation for the governor to sign, and it's prepared for the same day.”
Ysursa said all the questions about the timing likely are arising because Idaho's law really was written with initiatives in mind, which are citizen-initiated laws, rather than referenda, which are citizen-initiated votes on whether or not to accept laws passed by the Legislature. Typically, the filing of a referendum would “suspend it from ever going into operation,” until after the voters had their say, he explained. But under Idaho Supreme Court precedent, an emergency clause trumps that, allowing a referendum to take effect in the meantime, and then be either upheld or repealed. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The state Department of Education has posted data online telling school districts which teachers have earned a bonus under a new merit pay plan. Districts were notified Wednesday they'll have 30 days to review and appeal the data used to calculate the pay-for-performance bonuses scheduled to go out Nov. 15. The bonuses, however, are part of a reform package being challenged at the ballot box and must first pass voter muster Nov. 6. The timeline is prompting outcry from critics of the reforms authored by state schools chief Tom Luna. The Idaho Education Association wrote Luna last week asking him to promptly disburse the bonus funding. Luna's spokeswoman says he hasn't yet answered the IEA's letter but plans to respond, and will maintain that the bonus timeline cannot be changed.
It turns out that state law doesn't require the state Department of Education to wait until after the November election before sending out merit-pay bonuses to teachers under the “Students Come First” school reform laws after all. A bill that passed the 2012 Legislature, SB 1329, changed the reform law to require that the bonuses go out “by no later than” the third payment of state funds to school districts, which goes out Nov. 15, rather than the previous wording in the law, which said they should be “made as part of” that payment. Nevertheless, the state Department of Education maintains current timelines would prevent the payments from going out earlier anyway.
“We cannot send data out and have it be incorrect,” department spokeswoman Meliss McGrath told the Associated Press. “We are talking about people's money here, and we have to get it right.” Opponents of the reforms have accused Luna of holding the payments “hostage” to try to persuade voters not to repeal the laws on Nov. 6.
Meanwhile, the state has again delayed the release of data telling teachers whether they've earned a bonus under the new law. It had originally been scheduled to go out Sept. 1, but the department said Friday it's being held up because school districts were given more time to appeal student achievement results. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.