Without a doubt the most debated and controversial issue considered by this year’s Legislature was the education reform package crafted by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. The reform proposals drew hours of testimony and debate, both in committee hearings as well as on the floors of the House and the Senate.
The bills in summary:
- S1108 phases out tenure and replaces it with one- or two-year contracts. It is intended to give local school boards more decision-making power and it limits collective bargaining.
- S1110 is a pay-for-performance measure. The idea is to reward teachers and school districts based on the academic growth the students within those districts are showing. Rewards can be given at the local level by individual districts and teachers may also be rewarded for taking “leadership roles” such as grant writing, mentoring, creating curriculum, and obtaining some advanced teaching certification.
- S1113 is designed to bring Idaho’s schools into the modern world. By introducing technology into the classroom, laptop access for some students and allowing students to take online classes, proponents of the bill argue that students are able to learn using the technology that is now part of the everyday world, computers.
When something is changed, especially if it’s a drastic change, there is going to be controversy and opposition, said Gov. Butch Otter, who supported the education bills during the legislative session, and still supports them despite opponents of the bills gathering enough signatures to put them on the ballot for voter approval in November 2012. A recall effort against Luna did not realize enough signatures, but it was another sign that the bills stirred up a lot of emotion.
The governor said the opposition to the education reforms “didn’t surprise me. It’s something new so it didn’t surprise me. I’m going to work to make sure we keep those three bills, those three reform bills in place. The high tech bill, the negotiations, the transparency. We’ve just gone in the last two months through a lot of the school boards around the state, and the 115 school districts that have negotiated the new contract, that have put in the new vendors, that have negotiated the contracts they need for the next year. And, not just with school teachers and other vendors. They’ve all reported back how smoothly they went because they were transparent, because the media could come in and sit down and if it was a one- or a two- or a three-day process or longer, they were prepared to report on it.”
There will be ancillary benefits to the reforms, believes the governor. He feels school districts will now take a look at options that will be taxpayer-friendly. “I think all of those things (reforms) are big pluses for the taxpayers and big pluses for the schools and the children themselves. Our focus is on the advancement of the students and how well they’re doing in school and that’s where it should be. But, we fully recognize that 85 percent of our costs are personnel costs, whether it’s the superintendents themselves or the teachers or the administration costs, all of those kinds of things. I think one of things that we’re going to find, which is a plus as far as I’m concerned, is we’re going to see more and more school districts come together and say, ‘Why do you have a payroll system, and we have a payroll system too? You’ve got the better equipment, you’ve got the capability. Why don’t you also use our payroll?’ So we won’t have to have a payroll system in this district, we can combine the two and have one payroll system, one accounting system.”
He feels possible changes could find their way from administrative functions like payroll and accounting right up to the management of the districts. He envisions that “school districts can come together and say, “You know, for the amount of students we have and distance that we have to travel, we could have one superintendent over the two school districts.’ That’s now management back in the hands of the patrons.”
The big test, of course, comes in November 2012 when the three education referendums go before the voters in the general election. It should be a good turnout with national, state and legislative offices on the ballot in addition to the education reform issues.
The governor is confident the reforms will survive the vote. “I think as the citizens of Idaho, who are going to go vote on those reform bills in 17 months, are going to see more pluses than all the minuses that they’ve heard about.”
Note: Gov. Otter will address a number of issues this week on IdahoReporter.com. The Otter series:
Monday – Land Board involvement in purchasing and operating commercial properties in competition with the private sector.
Tuesday – The education reforms passed in 2011 by the Legislature and signed by the governor.
Wednesday – Are health care exchanges a good idea for the state of Idaho?
Thursday – Were the bonuses recently announced for some state employees wise given the state’s budget challenges? Is it proper for state lawmakers as permitted under the Idaho retirement system to count their time in the Legislature and any time as a state department head for retirement benefits?
Friday – What is the future and role of the Office of Drug Policy? What are the governor’s plans for 2014 when his second term will end? The governor has spent time in the private sector and has held a number of public sector, elected positions. What has he learned from those?