Decisions in education, from West Ada to the Bible in schools

Idaho Attorney General Wasden: Bibles in schools

Lawrence Wasden talks about the so-called "Bible in schools" bill, which Gov. Butch Otter later vetoed. He spoke to the Idaho Statesman editorial board on Tuesday, April 5, 2015.
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Lawrence Wasden talks about the so-called "Bible in schools" bill, which Gov. Butch Otter later vetoed. He spoke to the Idaho Statesman editorial board on Tuesday, April 5, 2015.

Two decisions in education this week got our attention: one at the school district level that will involve the replacement of a trustee; and one at the state level, where a governor’s veto preserved a constitutional and level playing field for the use of religious texts in Idaho classrooms.

West Ada trustees

The resignation of Russell Joki on Tuesday from the West Ada school board means there is yet another opening in the troubled district. Former trustee Julie Madsen resigned in February, after each served less than a year on the panel.

For whatever reasons, neither Joki nor Madsen apparently wanted to face the rigors of a May 17 recall election. The remaining trustees now have the job of appointing someone to fill Joki’s spot — and we hope the panel goes about it with more transparency and public scrutiny than when Madsen’s replacement was chosen.

We have no problem with the person appointed, Philip Neuhoff, but we do have a problem with the process. Over the course of several days last month, the trustees shared the applications of four candidates who were interested in replacing Madsen. But Neuhoff’s name did not come up until the night the board voted him in. Though the trustees questioned Neuhoff and the other candidates that night, the public was not given the opportunity.

Here’s hoping the board takes its time and opens this process up to the public, as it did when West Ada’s new superintendent, Mary Ann Ranells, was selected. What’s the harm in allowing a forum where the public can ask questions? There is not going to be an election here. This position will be filled for the next three years by an appointee, and the public will be better served if it is allowed to stay informed during the process.

Bible veto

Though we wish Gov. Butch Otter would have used his veto power on some other bills as well, his first veto action of 2016 was correct and an obvious choice.

To permit any religious text for reference use in Idaho schools doesn’t pass muster with the Idaho Constitution — and Otter called the Legislature on it. That this body could pass SB 1342 by such overwhelming margins is another sign that the majority of our lawmakers are still confusing the secular lanes of public education and government with the religious lanes that are fully protected elsewhere.

Otter helped remind us there is an executive branch of government in our checks-and-balances system, and he more than likely saved the state from another costly (and losing) lawsuit. The Attorney General’s Office had offered an opinion to lawmakers that clearly showed the unconstitutional nature of the bill, referencing a passage in the Idaho Constitution: “No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article ...”

Kudos to Otter and the few legislators who voted against SB 1342 for understanding that the Bible was not under attack here, but the level playing field that our religious freedoms demand was.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.