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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Lawmaker wants teacher bonus option

BOISE – Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, says he doesn’t want teachers to lose the $38.8 million in performance-pay bonuses that the state is scheduled to send out to school districts on Nov. 15 – he just wants it distributed differently than the voter-rejected Students Come First laws required.

“I would like to see it go to the base, and let the teachers negotiate with their local school boards for it,” Hammond said. “Because I think it’s disingenuous … giving merit pay to people that don’t deserve it. I don’t want to do that to teachers.”

The law’s initial bonuses, awarded to teachers based on last school year, are tied to student achievement increases for entire schools or groups. As those receiving bonuses were announced over the past week, there have been concerns raised around the state about nonqualifying schools that in some cases have been recognized as outstanding but have high numbers of low-income and disadvantaged students. In Boise and Coeur d’Alene, that concern has prompted teachers to ponder pooling their bonus money to share with teachers at those schools.

Hammond, a former school principal, said some teachers who don’t deserve bonuses are getting them, while deserving, high-performing teachers are going without.

“It’s not that I’m against merit pay,” Hammond said. “But this isn’t working, and we shouldn’t do it. Let the local school districts work that out.”

It’s not clear whether the state has that option at this point. A legal opinion from the state attorney general’s office on the status of the bonuses is due to the state Department of Education shortly.

October revenues miss projections

Idaho state tax revenues came in $10 million below projections in October, for a year-to-date $6.9 million below forecast, a 0.8 percent lag. After accounting for amounts the Legislature must reimburse deficiency accounts for fires, pests and hazardous material incidents, the state now looks on track to end the fiscal year with a $30.1 million balance, $25.7 million more than was anticipated when the legislative session adjourned last spring.

Goedde mulls chairmanship

Coeur d’Alene Sen. John Goedde, who just won re-election to a seventh term in the Senate, says he may or may not continue as the Senate Education Committee chairman. “I would be in line to take the Commerce & Human Resources chairmanship, and that’s something that I spent … years being involved with as a small businessman,” said Goedde, an insurance agent. “And I would not have the hassle of dealing with the leadership of the IEA there.”

Clearly stung by the defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures – of which Goedde was the lead legislative sponsor and which the Idaho Education Association opposed – he said he’ll “withhold judgment on how serious the IEA is on looking at education reform” until he sees what vision the teachers union proposes for future reform. “If the union is sincere in looking at reform, I think they need to be included,” Goedde said. “But if it’s going to be ‘not only no but hell no,’ which has kind of been their prior approach to this, then it’s a futile effort to include them.”

Goedde said that by seniority, if he were to leave the education chairmanship, the next person eligible would be Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who now chairs the Resources Committee. And if he didn’t want to, the next would be Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who now serves as caucus chairman.

Goedde said, “But with that said, I also made a commitment that I’d see this reform through the end, and I don’t know that I can jump ship mid-term.”

Lawmakers will gather for their North Idaho Legislative Tour starting today; it’s in Moscow and Lewiston this year. The three-day event will be the first chance for jockeying for leadership; it’ll also be the first chance for lawmakers to chew over the election results together. “We need to sit down as a majority caucus and talk about where we go from here,” Goedde said.

No state payments required

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 student laptop computer contract with Hewlett-Packard. I can verify that according to HP’s Business and Scope of Work Proposal, which was 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 Proposition 3 didn’t pass. HP said the cost would be zero, as its period of performance for the contract wouldn’t begin “until and unless Proposition 3 has been approved by Idaho voters in November, 2012.”

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