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“Students Come First” was the name of Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna’s controversial school reforms, which included a dramatic increase in online learning. But the lesson he has failed to learn is that communication comes first in pushing significant change.
First, teachers complained they weren’t sufficiently consulted when Luna introduced his reforms two years ago. Nonetheless, lawmakers adopted them, but voters repealed them. Then, last session, lawmakers passed modified versions and made it more difficult to launch voter initiatives.
Now, Luna has befuddled his legislative allies by awarding a 15-year contract worth up to $35.5 million to set up Wi-Fi networks in Idaho schools. SR Read more.
Are you interested in hearing Luna's explanation?
Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna on today defiantly issued a 5- to 15-year contract to a Nashville, Tenn. firm to run WiFi networks in Idaho high schools, dismissing criticism from lawmakers that they never authorized the multi-year contract, and passing over two home-grown Idaho companies seeking the contract. “As a state, it is our goal and our responsibility to ensure every child has equal access to the best educational opportunities, no matter where they live,” Luna declared. “To accomplish this, we have to equip every public high school with the advanced technology and tools necessary to create these opportunities.”
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he’s asked the legislative budget staff to explore with the Idaho Attorney General whether Luna had legal authority to issue a multi-year contract, when the Legislature authorized only one year of funds – a one-time appropriation for the next year of $2.25 million. Luna characterized that as “standard practice,” noting that the contract, like most state contracts, will include an exit clause that cancels it if the state doesn’t appropriate sufficient funds. Because the contract also calls for ENA to own all the equipment it installs in the schools, if the contract is canceled, the company would pull back out the wireless networks it had installed.
However, Idaho’s Purchasing Division administrator, Bill Burns, said his division won’t begin the process of issuing a multi-year contract until the agency in question certifies that it has the funding to cover the full cost of the contract over time. “They have to say they have funding for the value of the contract over the contract life,” Burns said. “If we don’t get that, we don’t even start the process for writing an RFP or whatever it is, an invitation to bid or whatever. That’s our absolute starting point right there.”
McGrath wouldn’t say if ENA had the lowest bid; she did say it received the highest score from an interview committee. The scoring was divided into three equal parts, for cost, technology, and company qualifications/interviews, with each counting for a third.
ENA is the only one of the three finalists with ties to Luna. The company donated $6,000 to Luna’s campaign between the 2009 and 2012, and its top Idaho employee, Garry Lough, worked for Luna at the Idaho State Department of Education before joining ENA in 2012. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Wednesday that he wished the Purchasing Division had overseen the contracting process. “It would have been cleaner,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said today that there are several reasons the department decided to set up its long-term WiFi contract for Idaho high schools with the vendors keeping ownership of all the equipment they install, meaning if the contract ends, they pull it out of the schools. “It’s a managed service,” she said. “We want more than just the equipment. We would like a service provided to school districts so that there is maintenance, filtering. Second is cost – when you begin to buy infrastructure, the cost is going to go up into the tens of millions.” Third, she said, if the state or the schools owned their own wireless infrastructure, “We would be responsible for updating that infrastructure. Because technology changes so quickly, it’s much more practical to put the onus on the vendor to update that technology.”
The RFP for the wireless contract requires the vendor to update the equipment on a rotating basis, at least once every five years.
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has awarded a multimillion-dollar wireless contract to Education Networks of America, choosing the Nashville, Tenn. firm to provide WiFi in every Idaho high school for up to the next 15 years; the contract could cost the state up to $33.3 million over that time. “Wireless internet access is a critical component of the 21st century classroom so teachers can integrate the technology they need in the classroom,” Luna said in a statement; you can read his full statement here/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.
Eye on Boise rdp of Luna wifi contract activity today:
- Ties between Luna bidders on wifi contract?
- Price to be fixed no matter how many schools
- $35.5M total cost for wifi project, work starts Monday
- JFAC co-chairs question why wifi needed for schools
- Luna plans 15-year wireless contact, lawmakers aghast
- Is multi-year contracts standard operating procedure? Maybe not
Question: And Idaho lawmakers followed Luna slack-jawed over the cliff when he announced his failed education reforms why?
The big wireless contract awarded to Education Networks of America this afternoon – to provide WiFi in every Idaho high school at a cost to the state of up to $35.5 million over the next 15 years – is a “standard practice” approach, the State Department of Education said in its news release announcing the award. But the head of the state’s Division of Purchasing says otherwise.
Melissa McGrath, SDE spokeswoman, said the multi-year contract idea is “something that we began under Students Come First. The idea was to connect every high school to wireless, and we had a contract for it.” That was cancelled after voters rejected the Students Come First reform laws last November. But now, she said, “The Legislature decided … to move forward with it. So we have been directed to move forward with wireless technology for every public high school. The only way to do that for $2.25 million is through a statewide contract. But there is a non-appropriation clause, so we can discuss this every year going forward.”
The Legislature actually only authorized $2.25 million for wireless infrastructure in the next year; it didn’t authorize a multi-year contract. But McGrath said a “non-appropriation clause” saying the contract would be canceled if the Legislature didn’t appropriate funds in future years takes care of that. “That’s pretty standard,” she said. “State agencies sign multi-year contracts with non-appropriation clauses all the time.”
Bill Burns, administrator of the state Division of Purchasing in the Department of Administration, said his division won’t begin the process of issuing a multi-year contract until the agency in question certifies that it has the funding to cover the full cost of the contract over time. “They have to say they have funding for the value of the contract over the contract life,” Burns said. “If we don’t get that, we don’t even start the process for writing an RFP or whatever it is, an invitation to bid or whatever. That’s our absolute starting point right there.”
All contracts issued through the Division of Purchasing do include a standard exit clause for if the state does not appropriate sufficient funds. If that happens, Burns said, “The contract’s null and void, because we’re a balanced budget state.”
He noted that all state elected officials – including state Schools Superintendent Tom Luna and his department – are exempt from Division of Purchasing contracting rules and the division’s review process, though they can request help. The only reason the division handled the giant Students Come First laptop computer contract was because the “Students Come First” laws specifically required it to do so.
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has awarded a multimillion-dollar wireless contract to Education Networks of America, choosing the Nashville, Tenn. firm to provide WiFi in every Idaho high school for up to the next 15 years; the contract could cost the state up to $33.3 million over that time. "Wireless internet access is a critical component of the 21st century classroom so teachers can integrate the technology they need in the classroom," Luna said in a statement; you can read his full statement here.
Luna said ENA's bid "came in under budget at $2,111,655 per year." The initial term of the contract is five years; the state would pay $10.56 million over that time. If both five-year extensions are given, and both price increases of up to 5 percent for the second and third five-year periods, the state's total cost over the 15 years would be $33,284,962.
I’ve had lots of readers asking me if there are any ties between Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and the companies bidding on the multimillion-dollar WiFi contract for Idaho high schools, which could run up to 15 years and cost the state up to $35.5 million.
Among the three finalists – Tek-Hut Inc., Education Networks of America, and Ednetics Inc., all of which were brought in for interviews - only ENA has ties to Luna that I could find. The company, based in Nashville, Tenn., donated $6,000 to Luna’s campaign between the 2009 and 2012, and its top Idaho employee, Garry Lough, worked for Luna at the Idaho State Department of Education before joining ENA in 2012. Lough’s final position with the state was communications director for the Idaho Education Network, the service that’s providing broadband connections to every Idaho high school. Lough, a former Idaho Republican Party executive director, also personally contributed to Luna’s campaigns, but only small amounts, $200 in 2006 and a $115 in-kind donation in 2010.
ENA has an ongoing contract with the state to operate the IEN, to the tune of $8 million a year.The new WiFi contractor would work closely with the IEN to take its broadband feed and translate it into campus-wide WiFi and ethernet connections reaching into all instructional and administrative areas in Idaho high schools.
Among the other two finalist firms, Tek-Hut Inc. is a Twin Falls-based company founded in 2001 by Dallas Gray and Nate Bondelid; it employs more than 20 people and provides services across the nation, primarily to K-12 school districts. Ednetics is a Post Falls-based company founded by Shawn Swanby in his living room in 1997 when he was a University of Idaho student; it now has 60 employees in three locations and develops and installs networks and other infrastructure in school districts and universities throughout the Northwest.
I could find no record of Tek-Hut Inc. or Ednetics, or the principals of either firm, contributing to any of Luna’s campaigns.
Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna still plans to go ahead with awarding a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract for high school WiFi today, according to his spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath. “I hope it’s today – we’re just finalizing it, but hopefully within the next couple of hours,” McGrath said just before 2 p.m. Boise time. She said the contract, with an initial term of five years and two options to extend up to 15 years, will be at a fixed price per year, regardless of how many Idaho high schools participate. “As of yesterday, 44 districts have opted in,” McGrath said. “We don’t know, to be honest, how many are going to opt in the first year. … They ultimately have the choice at the local level”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.
- Also: Luna aide: Wifi deal will save Idaho money/Jennifer Swindell, IdahoED News.
Question: Izzit just me — or is Superintendent Luna out of control … again (and this time he doesn't have GOP apologists circling the wagons around him)?
Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna still plans to go ahead with awarding a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract for high school WiFi today, according to his spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath. “I hope it’s today – we’re just finalizing it, but hopefully within the next couple of hours,” McGrath said just before 2 p.m. Boise time.
She said the contract, with an initial term of five years and two options to extend up to 15 years, will be at a fixed price per year, regardless of how many Idaho high schools participate. “As of yesterday, 44 districts have opted in,” McGrath said. “We don’t know, to be honest, how many are going to opt in the first year. … They ultimately have the choice at the local level.” The pricing won’t change based on the number of schools, she said. “It will be per year. We have to be prepared to fund 340 high schools or 50 high schools.”
If only 50 schools sign on, for the first year, the state would be paying $45,000 per school for WiFi, if the contract comes in at the budgeted amount for next year of $2.25 million. If 340 participated, the state would pay $6,429 per school. If the contract runs for the full 15 years, and if the contractor is allowed the two 5 percent price increases at five and 10 years specified in the RFP, the contract would cost the state $35.5 million over the 15 years.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, says Idaho needs to be taking stock of what it already has as far as technology in its schools, in order to sensibly plan for additions. “A majority of legislators agree that we need our public K-12 schools and all of our schools to keep up with technology,” said Keough, a 9th term senator and vice-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “I think that we need to be prudent in properly planning that buildout, however.” Her comments came after she learned yesterday that the State Department of Education is planning to award a 15-year contract for WiFi service in Idaho’s high schools – but the state doesn’t know how many schools already have it.
“I have advocated in the past two years that we need to be mapping what it is we have and making sure that we have a systematic plan for our buildout,” Keough said, “and I thought we were headed down that path, but it doesn’t sound as though we’re there yet.”
She added, “I’m concerned about going ahead with something that isn’t authorized by the Legislature budget-wise. There’s no money past next year. And it might be disruptive if we do not fund it, and the equipment may get pulled out, and that’s disruptive to the district.”
Some lawmakers are questioning why a statewide contract would even be needed to install WiFi at Idaho high schools, rather than just giving the money to local school districts and letting them hire local providers to put in their wireless systems, which the districts then would own. “It puts the state in the position of competing with local service providers,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “Maybe that’s just my philosophical difference, but I’m not sure that’s the role the state should play. What’s good for Castleford may not be what’s best for Blaine school district, or vice versa.”
House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “That could mean that Filer goes out and gets Project Mutual, that could mean that Rupert goes out and gets somebody.That money could have been put out. I am just really surprised, and it troubles me, because that $2.25 million is not enough money to make this type of an assumption on. It’s not a fortune." She added, "If one of these people wants to contract with the state, it would appear to me that somewhere or other the state would own the equipment – after all, you don’t jerk equipment out of school districts, No. 1, and No. 2, they would certainly have to go year-by-year on funding. Everything else runs with the yearly budget.”
State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said, “This is the most cost-efficient way to pursue these types of contracts. There is always a clause in the contract to ensure future years are subject to funding from the Legislature.”
Cameron said there were several messages from Idaho voters’ rejection of the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which included a giant statewide contract to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student. “I think one of them was that they didn’t want this top-down, all-inclusive approach from the state department, who appears to know best or think they know best,” he said. “The Legislature agreed this session that it should be locally driven decisions on technology, who the vendors are, etc.”
Here are a few more tidbits about the 15-year wireless contract that state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is scheduled to award today:
The RFP calls for a fixed price for the first five years, then allows for up to a 5 percent increase for the next five years, and another 5 percent increase for the final five years. If all the increases are taken and the first five years stay fixed at the $2.25 million amount, the cost to the state over the full 15 years would be $35.47 million.
The Scope of Work for the project includes providing Idaho’s high schools with “a complete and fully managed wireless service,” including content filtering, help desk support, training, project management and “customer relations management.” It would use existing broadband connections to the schools from the Idaho Education Network, and would involve any Idaho high school, junior high or middle school that serves students in grades 9-12, if the school opts in to the project.
The RFP calls for the work to begin next Monday – July 29. The WiFi service would be fully deployed in all Idaho schools by March 15, 2014. Periodic upgrades to the most current standards would be required on a rotational basis, once every 60 months or sooner.
The RFP contains some lofty aspirations for the results of the contract. Among them: “The Project will support educating more students at a higher level by providing electronic network connectivity throughout the entire school building rather than only in a wired classroom. No matter where a child lives in Idaho, they will have access to the best educational opportunities, including the highest quality instruction and highly effective teachers. Every student will learn in a 21st Century classroom not limited by walls, bell schedules, school calendars, or geography. When they graduate from high school, they will be prepared to go on to post-secondary education or the workforce, without the need for remediation.”
Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna is about to sign a 15-year, multimillion-dollar contract for a private company to set up Wi-Fi networks in every high school in the state, even though the Legislature never approved the move. Luna is scheduled to award the contract today. The finalists include Education Networks of America, a company that was awarded a contract, later canceled, under the voter-rejected Students Come First laws last year to do the same thing. “It was part of a Senate bill that we should do a statewide contract,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna’s spokeswoman. But the bill she cited was Senate Bill 1200, the public school budget. It allocated $2.25 million to set up wireless infrastructure in Idaho high schools next year and said nothing about a long-term contract. The request for proposals doesn’t include amounts, but if the contract stayed at $2.25 million a year, it would cost the state $11.25 million over five years and $33.75 million over the full 15 years/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.
Question: I ♥ wifi. But I can't help but think that Luna has stepped beyond bounds of standard operating procedure by pulling this rabbit out of his hat without keeping Legislature in the loop. What do you think?
Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna is about to sign a 15-year, multimillion-dollar sole-source contract for a private firm to set up WiFi networks in every high school in the state – even though the Legislature never approved the move, and legislative leaders who learned of it from a reporter Tuesday were shocked. Luna is scheduled to award the contract Wednesday; the three finalists include Education Networks of America, a firm that was awarded a contract, later canceled, under the voter-rejected Students Come First laws last year to do the very same thing. ENA was a subcontractor to Hewlett-Packard, which would have provided laptop computers to every Idaho high school student.
“It was part of a Senate bill that we should do a statewide contract,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna’s spokeswoman. But the only bill she cited was SB 1200, the public school budget. It allocated $2.25 million to set up wireless infrastructure in Idaho high schools next year, and said nothing about a long-term contract. “We did not agree and probably would not have agreed to a multi-year contract during last session, particularly given the financial straits that we believed we were under,” said Idaho Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “This shows in my opinion a little bit of a lack of judgment.”
He called the suggestion that SB 1200 authorized the contract “certainly a stretch, and perhaps borderline on a lack of honesty, because there was no provision in SB 1200 that addressed it. … There’s no germane committee legislation that addressed it.” Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the House Appropriations chairwoman, said, “My word – how can they? That doesn’t sound like the budget I set every year, which dies, positively dies out of money on the 30th of June.” They and other legislative leaders and JFAC members said they thought the appropriation was just for “seed money” to help some districts get WiFi up and running in their high schools next year.
To make matters worse, the State Department of Education’s request for proposals for the big contract specifies that the successful vendor will own all the equipment it installs in roughly 340 Idaho high schools. And if the contract is canceled for any reason – including because the Legislature doesn’t ante up in future years – it’d be required to “de-install” all that equipment, ripping the wireless networks back out of the schools. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “If the contract says the vendor owns the equipment, then where are what we spent our $2.25 million dollars for?” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Eleven schools around the state, including one charter school, one virtual charter school, five middle schools, three high schools and one elementary school, have been selected for the $3 million in pilot project grants for school technology that state lawmakers approved this year. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna announced the picks – from among 81 schools that applied – in a news conference this morning at Discovery Elementary School in Meridian, one of the chosen schools.
“The demand for technology in our schools continues to grow,” Luna said. “Through these grants, we will be able to meet the needs of just some. In the future, we will take what we learn from these pilots and expand our efforts so all students – not just those who are fortunate enough to attend these schools – but every student in Idaho has equal access to the best educational opportunities.”
Voters in November rejected Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform legislation, which would have paid for a laptop computer for every high school student in the state, while shifting priorities within Idaho’s public school budget to include a new focus on online learning.
At the Meridian elementary school, a $370,501 grant will pay for a “classroom rotational model of shared devices to individualize instruction and create innovative, self-directed learners.” Kuna Middle School, with an $891,200 grant, will provide Chromebooks to each student in math class, as part of an effort to address struggles in math and writing. McCall-Donnelly High School will give every student “access to iPad technology,” in a $150,000 project designed in part by a student there, Brooke Thomas.
Sugar-Salem High School in eastern Idaho will give every student an HP 4440S notebook computer and access to a wireless network, with its $454,783 grant. Moscow Middle School will pilot interactive whiteboards, clickers, formative assessments and cloud technology as part of a $180,000 project to transform the classroom approach. Compass Public Charter School will set up three computer labs and provide three classroom sets of iPads; the Idaho Distance Education Academy will pilot digital textbooks and expand its instructional management system; Buetler Middle School in Dayton will provide every student an iPad with its $138,719 grant, along with training on “digital citizenship.”
You can read the full list of grants here. Not on the list: Funds to continue a grant-funded iPad program at Paul Elementary that was initially funded by Park City, Utah-based iSchool Campus.
Idaho’s gotten clearance from the country’s top education official to start field-testing its new high-stakes tests for students next year, and stop administering the Idaho Standards Achievement Test to avoid double-testing kids, except in cases where a student needs to take the ISAT to meet a graduate requirement, Idaho Education News reports. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna told Idaho EdNews, “This is just one more step as we transition to higher standards and new assessments. Under current law, it appears we have to give two tests to every student next year, and we’ve made it clear we’re not giving two – we’re giving one – because of student fatigue a number of other factors.”
The new tests developed through the Smarter Balanced Assessments Consortium, are aimed at moving beyond multiple-choice questions to focus on fluency in a subject and critical thinking skills. This year, about 120 Idaho schools piloted the new tests. You can read Idaho EdNews’ full report here.
Idaho lawmakers are unhappy that the state’s schools superintendent has resisted moves to add more school counselors to help boost the number of students going on to higher education. In 2010-2011, Idaho had 489 students for every counselor, above the national average of 471 and nearly twice the recommended national standard of 250 – which only three states meet. Washington’s student-to-counselor ratio is even higher, at 510. The recommendations to trim Idaho’s student-to-counselor ratio and add a statewide coordinator for all K-12 school counselors were made in a report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations in 2012 as part of an array of moves aimed at encouraging more Idaho kids to go on to further education after high school. But state schools Superintendent Tom Luna rejected both school-counselor recommendations.
“The responsibility for a college-going culture should be all educators in a school, not focused on one person,” Luna wrote in a response to the report, delivered to lawmakers along with a follow-up report Wednesday. “While counselors provide excellent service, it would be difficult to add enough employees to make this recommendation meaningful at this time.”
He cited an Idaho school district where every Friday, “the teachers and staff members proudly sport a T-shirt or sweatshirt from their alma mater,” saying, “This is more than just a T-shirt. It is the beginning of a conversation throughout the day, where every teacher and staff member engages students in a discussion about the importance of post-secondary education. … This is just one example I have seen that could easily be duplicated across the state and that ensures every staff member is involved in the success of students after high school – not just the school counselor.”
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, took issue with Luna’s response, as did Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “I’m concerned,” Mortimer said. “I think we have to look at our counselors and their roles – I believe they may be doing too much administrative issues, and not enough counseling. … It’s a critical portion of getting our students to go on.” The state Board of Education has set increasing Idaho’s dismally low number of students who go on to any type of higher education after high school as its top goal. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Thirteen months out from the 2014 Idaho primaries, and a little more than 18 months away from the general election, what can we expect? Perhaps a snoozer? Randy Stapilus — a longtime Northwest political observer and former Idaho newspaper editor — advances that theory in a weekend column making the rounds. By already formally announcing his bid for a second term, Sen. Jim Risch probably “cleared the field of serious opposition,” says Stapilus. And incumbent Gov. Butch Otter may well be doing the same by signaling his plans to seek a third term. Writes Stapilus: “The closest thing to a wild card among major offices seems to be superintendent of public instruction, mainly because incumbent Tom Luna endured a big crashing ballot issue defeat last year on school overhaul, the centerpiece of his two terms in office”/Kevin Richert, The EDge. More here.
Question: Is Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna vulnerable if he seeks re-election in 2014?
Boise comedian Pete Peterson, the former gubernatorial candidate who has twice failed to force a recall vote to remove Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna from office, just can’t seem to take “no” for an answer. Although Luna will face re-election for a third term in 2014, Peterson has formed the 2013 Luna Recall Committee to make another go. On Thursday, he’s planning a rally at the Capitol on the Jefferson Street sidewalk. The rally has a new wrinkle: a $50 prize for the “funniest, most original sign,” and a $50 prize for the “funniest, most original slogan or song”/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Why waste time, with the election a year away?
Maybe not exactly. But sort of. State Superintendent Tom Luna In defending one of Tom Luna’s key initiatives — Idaho Core Standards, or “common core” — spokeswoman Melissa McGrath calls out conservative pundit Glenn Beck for spreading “misinformation” about the initiative to establish uniform math and English language arts standards. McGrath decried the misinformation in an email sent to Idaho reporters this morning. Here’s the chronology. On March 14, Beck devoted his talk show to common core as a leftist movement that would devastate public education/Kevin Richert, The EDge. More here.
Question: I simply can't imagine that Superintendent Luna would embrace anything "liberal." Can you?
A humbled Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna told state lawmakers today that regardless of how it’s done, he wants Idaho to keep investing in teacher pay and classroom technology. Luna, whose ambitious “Students Come First” school reform laws were roundly rejected by voters in November, including plans to supply every Idaho high school student with a laptop computer, said he’s OK with the money being spent differently – but he wants it spent on schools; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
“We made tremendous progress on getting monies for technology and for teacher compensation thorough the legislation that was passed in 2011,” Luna said. “Now, I understand that for any number of reasons, those laws were overturned. But I don’t think anybody voted against those laws because they wanted us to spend less money on education this year or any year going forward.”
Luna called for a 3 percent increase in state funding for schools in Idaho next year, exceeding the 2 percent increase already backed by Gov. Butch Otter. And he staked out a strong position against a raid on the school budget to take away the reform funds, including the money for the laptops, and shift it to other uses like a tax cut for Idaho businesses.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he'll form a broad stakeholders' group to examine the best ways to improve Idaho's schools in the wake of the failure of the voter-rejected "Students Come First" reform plan, and said he's not looking for legislation in 2013. "I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators," the governor said in a guest opinion distributed today to Idaho newspapers. "The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it."
He added, "Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session." Otter said he's asked the State Board of Education to head up the effort; his op-ed piece includes supportive comments from the IEA, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene, and state Board President Ken Edmunds. Click below to read the governor's full article.
"Men and women of good will can sometimes disagree passionately about the specifics of public policy, especially when it involves our children," Otter writes. "But I’m confident we can broadly agree on the need for improving how we educate Idaho students, and I’m equally confident that the people of Idaho will rise to the occasion of this renewed opportunity for taking positive steps toward achieving our shared goals."
Buoyed by the results of a private poll commissioned by Education Voters of Idaho, some backers of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws – including Gov. Butch Otter – are calling for reviving “parts and pieces” of the voter-rejected laws. But the leaders of the successful referendum campaign against the laws say they shouldn’t be the starting point for new school reform discussions. “We just had the ultimate poll,” said Mike Lanza, referring to the overwhelming rejection of the laws by voters on Nov. 6. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
And you think the debate over the education reform measures was contentious. Read on. Referenda in 1936 and 2012 have been the only successful ones in Idaho history. In both years major legislation was repealed by the voters. Three other attempts failed. The 1936 referendum campaign targeted the 2-cent sales tax and the 2012 effort generally focused on education reform. Even though the subject matter of the two referenda efforts were quite different, there are a number of interesting similarities. Both were personalized. The 2-cent sales tax was mocked as a "penny for Benny" for Gov. C. Ben Ross, who championed the tax. In 2012, the education reform laws were often referred to as "Luna laws" for the primary sponsor of the legislation, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna/Jim Weatherby, special to Lewiston Tribune. More here.
Question: Do you know much about Idaho history?
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has announced that under the now-repealed "Students Come First" laws, teachers in 499 schools across the state will receive bonuses for their work last school year, while those in 155 schools will not. Data for 12 schools still is in the works. The bonuses are going out on the basis of student achievement by school, measured partly by test scores. In the Boise School District, for example, teachers at North Junior High will get $234,955 in bonuses, while teachers at South Junior High will get nothing. Teachers at Highlands Elementary School will split $78,000 in bonuses, while those at Garfield, Whitney and Hawthorne elementaries will get nothing. Every high school in the district qualified for bonuses for its teachers, except for Frank Church High School, the district's alternative school.
Luna said about eight in 10 Idaho teachers will get bonuses under the program, with the average around $2,000. You can see the complete list here, by school.
Mike Lanza, chairman of the campaign that successfully overturned controversial "Students Come First" school reform laws, reacted with suspicion today to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's call for collaboration on new reform laws. "His entire track record is not one of collaboration, and we believe his credibility is what it is because of that," Lanza said, noting that as the referendum campaign was gathering signatures, Luna and lawmakers added "clearly unnecessary" emergency clauses to the controversial laws. "He's not the person to lead this time. He should endorse a process that is run from outside of his department."
Lanza said, "I would urge the Legislature and Superintendent Luna to refrain from trying to pass anything quickly this year, because if they do, I think they will again raise the ire of the public." He said Idaho must "de-politicize this process and have it driven from the ground up. I'm talking about parents, teachers, administrators, members of school boards, business leaders, the very coalition of people that we've already begun to build. We believe that that's the way to really give credibility to this process and get buy-in from the public, not by having it driven by the superintendent whose plan has been discredited by the voters."
Meanwhile, Luna, the first non-educator to head Idaho's public schools, said, "There's many good things that have come from these laws even though they were overturned - in the way we're looking at technology, the way we're looking at teacher evaluations, the way we're looking at parental input, the way we're looking at advanced opportunities for students. Those are all good things that came from this law, and those don't go away." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Also, click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller on Luna's determination to push for merit pay in 2013.
A somewhat subdued Tom Luna, Idaho state superintendent of schools, pledged today to work with stakeholders to bring back only the pieces of his voter-rejected "Students Come First" school reform laws on which all sides can agree. "I think it's critical that we work together," Luna said in his first public comments since last Tuesday's election. Asked about the role of the Idaho Education Association, the state's teachers union, Luna said, "We'll sit down and meet with them."
Asked what he regrets, Luna said, "I regret that I ever used the phrase 'union thuggery.'" He also said he regretted that the laws that went to the voters in three referenda measures were so complex and far-reaching, and promised simpler, less-comprehensive proposals in the future. Luna said he accepts the voters' verdict on his reform plan. "The same people that voted down those laws elected me to this position twice," he said. "I have full confidence in Idahoans in educating themselves and making a decision based on the information gathered. … They had specific issues with specific parts of the law."
He offered a couple of examples of pieces of the laws that he thought all sides might support: Funding for high school seniors who have completed graduation requirements to take dual-credit college courses; funding for more math and science teachers; and "some sort of pay for performance." But he said overall, he doesn't know what parts of the reform plan will win support from all stakeholders. "We'll hear from the stakeholders, and we'll identify what we all agree on," Luna said. "I think the governor will continue to play a lead role."
Luna said he stayed out of the public eye in the days following the election because he was exhausted and emotionally drained. "I just took a couple of days, just spent time with my grandkids and my family," he said. "I was just mentally and physically done."
Idaho school teachers who earned $38.8 million in merit-pay bonuses last year under the now-repealed "Students Come First" school reform laws still must be paid those bonuses for their work last school year, according to an Idaho Attorney General's opinion released today by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. "This is very good news," Luna said. "I've been trying to do pay for performance since I was elected in '06."
But Luna had raised questions about whether the repeal of the laws on Nov. 6 might stop the state's ability to make the payments for last year, which were scheduled to go out to school districts on Nov. 15. The legal opinion, signed by Deputy Attorney General Andrew J. Snook, found that the effective date of the repeal of the law is Nov. 21, when Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa will convene the board of canvassers to certify the election results, after which Gov. Butch Otter will issue a formal proclamation. "Furthermore, the operative events that gave rise to teachers or administrators qualifying for Pay for Performance bonuses all occurred during the 2011-2012 school year," the opinion said. Therefore, the law's provision that school districts can make the payments to teachers up to Dec. 15, 2012, still stands, as it's "merely ministerial" acts that occur between last school year and that date to get the payments made.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected all three referenda on the Nov. 6 ballot regarding the "Students Come First" laws, repealing all three laws. Proposition 2 was the merit-pay bonus plan.
I've had several inquiries from readers concerned that now that voters have rejected Proposition 3, that the state would face costs related to the now-canceled $182 million laptop contract with Hewlett-Packard. I can verify that according to H-P's Business and Scope of Work Proposal, which is included in the contract as Exhibit D, the state is not required to make any payments.
Bidders were asked to outline early termination costs if Prop 3 didn't pass. H-P said the cost would be zero, as its period of performance for the contract wouldn't begin until the day after the election. It's in Exhibit D on page 102-3; you can read those two pages here. It says, "With a projected start date after November 6, HP anticipates that there will be no lease funding necessary as no notebook units would have shipped or have been accepted prior to the Proposition 3 ballot in November 2012. Hewlett-Packard will not fund any Lease Schedule under the Master Agreement until and unless Proposition 3 has been approved by Idaho voters in November, 2012."
Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who chaired the "No on Props 1,2,3" campaign, said today, "I first got involved in this effort because I have a couple of elementary kids and that was my entire motivation for getting involved. … This election was not a vote against better schools, quite to the contrary. This outcome was a statement by voters that we care very deeply about Idaho's public schools." He said, "Let's be clear about the mandate from voters," listing five points:
* "Idaho's voters believe in local control of public schools and reject any top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates from the state."
* "We believe that every student deserves to have an excellent teacher, and reject the notion of cutting teachers and increasing class sizes in order to pay for unproven technological education fixes."
* "We believe in the fundamental fairness of a collaborative benefit for everyone of giving our teachers a full voice in how our schools are managed, through the local negotiations process, including on matters beyond pay and benefits."
* "We believe we should invest in the classroom and reject the idea than an unfunded and unproven merit pay plan can improve student achievement."
* "And we believe that all stakeholders in education should be brought to the table to engage in a real and an honest process of figuring out how to improve Idaho's public schools."
Said Lanza, "Most of all in this election, voters said overwhelmingly our elected leaders must be held accountable to the public." At that point, he was interrupted by applause. "We want to sit down with our elected leaders, and that includes Supt. Luna," Lanza said, "and begin the hard work that is required to forge real education reform."
Maria Greeley, a Boise mom and co-founder of the campaign with Lanza, said, "The Luna laws were divisive and destructive, but there is a positive outcome. We have learned how important it is for all citizens to remain engaged in education. We know what we don't want, and by contrast, we have learned what we do want. We want transparency. We want collaboration. We want politics kept out of education. We want the input from our educators. We want our locally elected school boards to determine what is best for each district. And we want to know that our teachers are valued. It is now time to start healing and moving forward."