West Ada trustees take issue with superintendent’s appointment to State Board of Education

Correction: This story originally misstated the number of times the State Board of Eduction meets and the length of the meetings.

West Ada School District trustees are raising questions about Gov. Butch Otter’s appointment last week of their district’s superintendent to the State Board of Education.

Concerns range from “conflict of interest” to whether Linda Clark can fulfill her duties as superintendent of the state’s largest school district while meeting the demands of being on the state board. One West Ada board member says trustees might oppose her appointment, although another says that would be futile.

Idaho’s State Board of Education sets education policy for the state from kindergarten through college. It helps set accountability standards for the education that schools provide, and it backs the Idaho Core Standards. Members generally meet for a day and a half, seven times a year at locations around the state, including Boise, Moscow and Pocatello, the locations of Idaho’s three universities.

Clark, with her extensive education background, is “uniquely qualified” to serve on the board, Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, said Wednesday.

Making an issue of the appointment is the latest rub between the board, which took on two new members last month, and Clark.

In the first meeting after seating the new board members in July, trustees complained about a one-year extension on Clark’s two-year contract by the board in June.

Newly elected trustee Russell “Russ” Joki criticized Clark for speaking out on how districts handle evaluations of teachers, even though she was part of the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education that led to linking evaluations to teacher pay.

In an email to the district’s board clerk sent the day of Otter’s announcement, board chair Tina Dean said she had requests for a special meeting to focus on Clark’s appointment. The email was obtained through a public records request for Dean’s personal email account.

Clark did not receive a copy of the email about a possible special meeting on her appointment, she said.

“I was not included on the distribution list as I am on most,” Clark told the Statesman. “This is the first I have heard of it.”

Dean declined to discuss the email, saying it was a personnel matter that could be discussed at a later date in executive session, away from public view.

Joki told the Statesman in an email Wednesday that he supports holding the special meeting.

“I was ‘caught by surprise’ with the announcement and wondered about conflict of interest,” Joki said.

Clark sent an email to board members shortly before the governor’s announcement, telling them it was coming, a Statesman public records request shows.

Trustee Carol Sayles said she wants assurances Clark can do justice to both jobs.

“It does take energy and time,” Sayles said. “I don’t know how she is going to juggle them.”

But Clark has sat on numerous education committees and took a major role on the education task force, which lasted for several months.

Mike Vuittonet, a board member in his fifth term who supports Clark’s appointment, said the board might try to challenge Clark’s state job.

“I guess the only reason you discuss it is if you have some issue with it,” he said.

If the West Ada board were to make some formal opposition to Clark’s appointment, Vuittonet said, he’s not sure what good it would do.

He pointed to a standard clause in Idaho school superintendent contracts, including Clark’s, that give the superintendent authorization to attend, at district expense, all meetings of the State Board of Education to which they are invited.