OTTER SHOULD TAKE LEAD ON EDUCATION
Our take: The path to true education reform — worthy of the name, and worthy of our kids — is through collaboration, sorely lacking in the drafting of and politicking for Propositions 1, 2 and 3.
Former Idaho schools Superintendent Jerry Evans tells about the trip he and his immediate predecessor, Roy Truby, took to Twin Falls in the mid-1970s.
Their mission was to end a bitter teachers’ strike. Both sides were dug in. Until, that is, a local minister upbraided teachers and school board members alike. He didn’t know who was right. Didn’t care. But, he told the warring parties, “You’re doing this on my kids’ time.”
Properly chastised, both sides returned to the table. The strike ended. Kids went back to school. Two years of fighting the Luna Laws leaves Idaho in much the same kind of stalemate.
Acting in bad faith, Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna gave birth to his agenda — undermining teacher collective bargaining rights, imposing merit pay in lieu of substantive base pay improvement and siphoning off money from classroom teachers to technology and online instruction. He gave no hint of his plans until safely re-elected two years ago and then sprung it on the public as a fait accompli during the 2011 legislative session.
And when the people he shut out of the process — teachers, administrators, parents, school board members and critics — rose up and put the Luna Laws up for a referendum vote, he doubled down on that strategy. His defense became a personal battle against foes he characterized as union bosses.
Tuesday, a Republican electorate issued a rebuke to this Republican official — striking down Proposition 1 (collective bargaining) by 57.3 percent, Proposition 2 (merit pay) by 58 percent and Proposition 3 (laptops and online instruction) by a stunning 66.7 percent. Clearly Luna is no longer in any position to lead Idaho education.
But in repealing the Luna Laws, Idaho voters retained the same overwhelmingly Republican Legislature that passed those laws in the first place. By and large, this is a group that sees education as a financial drain and teachers as political adversaries. Don’t expect to see the discredited Luna agenda re-enacted. Neither should you be surprised to watch lawmakers divert money Luna intended to lavish on technology and merit pay and sink it into tax cuts.
Such a stalemate leaves Idaho’s youth mired in schools so underfunded they rank in the national basement. It provokes an escalating exodus of teachers, not just from Idaho but from their profession. It does nothing to address the 23 percent decline in Idaho’s financial commitment to schools that has violated a constitutional mandate for “uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” And gridlock means no progress toward genuine reforms on legitimate concerns:
Æ How does the state find middle ground between those who say no teacher deserves a job for life and others who recognize teachers need protection from arbitrary dismissal and political pressure?
Æ How will the state attract and retain its share of the best and brightest teachers by raising base pay along with providing incentives for those truly meritorious instructors?
Æ And in a modern era, how can schools most effectively use technology?
No other state — or country — is going to delay its own progress to enable Idahoans to patch up their differences and begin catching up. Unless somebody starts with a big table with room for everyone — teachers, parents, administrators, technophiles, technophobes and politicians.
All that’s needed is one leader to make it happen. That can’t be Luna. He’s not just a lame duck. He’s a dead duck. Nor can it be a Legislature that has been waging war against the Idaho Education Association for six years.
Only one indispensable figure remains — Gov. Butch Otter.
As Luna’s titular partner, Otter did not emerge from this political debacle untarnished. Still, when it’s the governor picking up the phone, things happen — even something as seemingly improbable as a summit among the IEA and the GOP legislative leadership.
The people have spoken. Now’s the time for their governor to act.