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Eye on Boise: Group sues over Boise schools’ contract with teachers union

Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, announced Thursday that his group has filed a lawsuit against the Boise School District, raising constitutional questions about the district’s contract with its local teachers union.

That contract allows paid leave for members who are delegates to attend Idaho Education Association conferences and covers $35,932 toward the salary and benefits of the association president, a teacher who takes a leave to fulfill association duties.

“This lawsuit is intended to defend students and taxpayers from greedy union bosses who have figured out how to pull money and resources out of Idaho’s classrooms in order to feather their own nests,” Hoffman declared at a news conference he called on the Statehouse steps, which he touted in a media advisory as announcing a “new effort to ensure education dollars are appropriately spent in schools.”

Boise School District spokesman Dan Hollar sent out this statement in response: “The Boise School District Administration and Board of Trustees do not comment about pending litigation. However, it’s important for people to remember that for the last 20 years Boise School District has benefited from a longstanding collaborative relationship with the Boise Education Association. This partnership continues to foster a culture of respect and teamwork in the district where our professional educators are valued for their work in ensuring our community’s students are provided every opportunity to succeed in college, career and citizenship. It is due to this positive ongoing working relationship that Boise School District is highly regarded in our state and nation as a high performing comprehensive public school system.”

Justices ponder Frazier case

Some interesting arguments took place at the Idaho Supreme Court last week in the case of Greater Boise Auditorium District v. David Frazier. In that case, the district is appealing a lower-court ruling that for the second time stated that a lease-back financing arrangement on a downtown convention center is invalid. Numerous groups have filed amicus briefs siding with the district, including the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of Highway Districts and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, saying that allowing the lower-court ruling to stand would inhibit a wide array of normal business practices for local government entities.

The question is regarding the meaning of Article 8, Section 3, of the Idaho Constitution, which is titled, “Limitations on County and Municipal Indebtedness.” It requires a two-thirds vote for local governments to take on long-term debt.

“What this means is essentially that local governments need to operate on a cash basis,” attorney Chris Meyer told the court on behalf of the auditorium district. “Nevertheless, the center lease does not require voter approval.”

That’s because it contains a non-appropriation clause, allowing the district to walk away from the deal at any time with no liability, he said.

John Runft, attorney for Frazier, argued the lease deal is really “an agreement to acquire real property.”

“It’s a long-term investment, that’s what it is,” he said. “I believe there the court must look at the intent of the transaction.”

Chief Justice Jim Jones cited an earlier decision from the court that Article 8, Section 3, “was designed primarily to protect taxpayers and citizens of political subdivisions.

“It seems to me that the framers of the Constitution were not intent on saying, ‘We’re just going to limit any long-term liability just for the heck of it,’ ” Jones said. “If we say that the lease before us is acceptable under Article 8 Section 3, what will be the harm to the taxpayers?”Runft said while taxpayers in the auditorium district wouldn’t have to pay more, “I believe the harm to the taxpayers generally would be setting this case as a precedent.”

If the court followed that precedent in other cases, he said, “I think the taxpayers would lose their right to be involved.”

Frazier, a professional photographer and publisher of the Boise Guardian website, won a similar case in 2006 involving a Boise Airport parking garage; lawmakers and voters subsequently approved a series of constitutional amendments in 2010 regarding debt for airports, public hospitals and city-owned electrical systems.

“They don’t want to have a vote of the people,” Frazier said. “I’m not opposed to the project. I want to preserve the Constitution, and I’m very sincere in that respect.”

Park-naming rules revised

Idaho’s state Parks Board has unanimously approved revised rules for corporate sponsorships in state parks, adding a clause that the state Legislature must approve any naming of a new or existing state park. The board would have authority to approve names for units within parks.

The change came after the board expressed concerns that the rules left the door open for naming a park for a corporate donor.

Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog. She can be reached at (208) 336-2854 or by email to bestyr@spokesman.com.