Proponents of Idahos controversial Students Come First laws drew polite applause at Mondays event at Centennial High School, but the near-capacity crowd of about 350 clearly leaned toward the opposition.
That was particularly true when Centennials own Cindy Wilson spoke. A longtime government teacher, Wilson said she stays neutral in the classroom, but tonight, Im coming out as a proponent of Vote No on Propositions 1, 2 and 3.
Voters statewide will decide Nov. 6 whether to retain (vote yes) or repeal (no) Idahos 18-month-old education laws that limit teacher contract negotiations; provide a merit pay system for educators; and call for all Idaho secondary school students to receive laptop computers and take at least two online courses before they graduate from high school.
The forums panel billed as two opponents, two proponents and two representatives each for the Boise and Meridian school districts also tilted toward the Vote No side in its opening moments, when Boise School Board President A.J. Balukoff urged the audience to vote that way. He and Boise Superintendent Don Coberly called for starting fresh after the election to come up with a new, more collaborative approach to Idaho school reform.
Meridian School Board member Anne Ritter said district representatives were invited as neutral parties and what we are not here to do is tell you how to vote. She and district community relations officer Eric Exline urged audience members to weigh each of the three laws individually and decide which, if any, they support.
Although Prop 3, which calls for the laptops and online classes, has gotten much of the focus this campaign season, most of the debate Monday focused on Props 1 and 2, which address the teacher contracts and pay for performance.
Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, said the new merit pay law allowed Lunas department to extract from the Legislature a 5.8 percent increase in teacher compensation after years of cuts.
Thats the biggest increase weve had in 18 years in the state of Idaho, Hancock said.
But opponents complained that merit pay is awarded to entire schools rather than individuals, so excellent teachers at a school that otherwise didnt meet standards would get stiffed, while a mediocre educator at a school that met state and district goals would be rewarded.
Even when addressing schools as a whole, the measures are unsuccessful, Coberly said. In Boise, one school honored as one of nine Idaho distinguished schools didnt qualify for bonuses, he said.
We teach hard. We work hard, Centennial teacher Wilson said. Pay us what were worth just in salary. Dont make us compete with each other.
Ken Burgess, spokesman for Yes for Idaho Education, said the laws represent significant strides toward improving Idaho education, and to repeal them in the middle of the year would be horribly disruptive.
Mike Lanza, chairman of the Vote No group, said that if the three laws are voted down, the Legislature will reappropriate the money set aside for Students Come First, and our schools will manage fine.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447