Huge crowd gathers for first public hearings on education budget

By Brian Murphy
bmurphy@idahostatesman.com

An overflow crowd of citizens wanting to testify before Friday's meeting of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee filled into the Idaho Capitol early in the morning.

With all 240 seats in the Capitol Auditorium occupied, legislative services opened an overflow room across the hallway with full audio and video of the meeting. That room, too, was filled with more than 100 people, and lawmakers opened another room.

"This is gratifying. I'm delighted you care so much about your government to come this morning," said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Never before has budget-writing JFAC taken public testimony. With Superintendent Tom Luna's proposal to change the public K-12 education system in the state, interest in the subject attracted many, many Idahoans to the Capitol before the sun had reached the Boise sky.

"We want to be listening and have more public involvement as we set budgets. These are unprecedented times. And I think it requires that we be creative and those creative ideas and thoughts will come from, in my opinion, the public," said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Among those in the hallway before the hearing were Nancy Berto of Boise, a retired secretary at Mountain Home Air Force Base. Berto held two day-glow orange signs reading, "Stop the Luna-cy" and "Save Our Schools."

"I'm just here representing myself," Berto said. "It's my own personal protest."

Former Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, was the first to testify.

"If we do not invest in our teachers the way they deserve to be invested in, we will not reap the benefits of their hard work," Durst said. "We need to provide (districts) the opportunity to spend the money freely as they so choose."

Julie Dillehay, a counselor at Vallivue High, said raising student-teacher ratios could have a huge impact, costing her school between $800,000 and $1 million in revenue.

"That's significant when you're asking people to educate children," Dillehay said.

She said overcrowding is an issue already.

"What you're seeing here," she said about the overcrowded room, "is what our classroom look like this fall."

Dennis Burt, of Coeur d'Alene, testified that Luna's plan is "flawed to the point of guaranteed failure."

Karen Mahoney, a mother from Eagle, said she was testifying on behalf of her two sons.

"Mr. Luna's plan is bad for students, bad for teachers and bad for business in this state," she said.

She said she worries about the Proposal to give all ninth-graders a laptop.

"Is the state of Idaho prepared to deal with the repercussions if that laptop is used by a cyber bully or a sexual predator?" Mahoney said.

Colby Gull, the superintendent of the Challis School District, testified in support of Luna's plan.

"We can't continue to cut. We need to change the system," Gull said.

Kent Black, a parent from Jerome, said "demanding more of our teachers and paying them less is not the answer."

Wayne Hoffman, the director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said he "wholeheartedly supports Superintendent Luna's proposal. ... It brings us more in line with what you see in 21st century education."

Hoffman also outlined waste in public schools.

Tina Williams, a science teacher at West Minico Middle School in Paul, said the average class size at her school was 27 with some classes as large as 35. She testified against Luna's plan.

Lauren Peters, a parent of four teenage children in Hansen, cried during her testimony while discussing the music and drama classes that have been cut from her district.

"My son will graduate and for the first time, as long as anyone can remember, no high school band will play pomp and circumstance," Peters said through tears.

Superintendent Luna sat in the room and listened to the public testimony.

Danielle Ahrens, a Republican official from Bonners Ferry, said fiscal discipline is the most important lesson we can teach our students.

"We don't have the money. We have to make cuts. It's not fun. It's hard," she said. "At home, in our budgets, this is what we have to do. It's simple math."

Steven Adams, who oversees online course improvement for BYU-Idaho, spoke in favor of the plan, saying "online education does work."

Meghan Ridley, a special education teacher from Sandpoint, asked lawmakers to consider if "thousands of educators are wrong about the needs of a system they studied for, work in and have dedicated their professional lives to. I think not."

Lorna Finman, a CEO of a high-tech business in Post Falls, said she supports Luna's plan.

"The world has changed and there is a new economic and harsher reality," Finman said. "The system of producing a competitive work force is failing. ... We are not tapping into the potential of these students."

Maria Nate, from Rexburg, said she supports Luna's "forward-thinking plan."

"I call myself an ardent public education supporter," Nate said. "The way we do business ... is not working."

Nate blasted the teachers' union for not looking out for the best interests of students or teachers.

"Now, committee members, is the time to show your courage and do the right thing," Nate said.

Wayne Ross, a teacher at College of Western Idaho, asked if parents would be able to opt out of the laptop program or online courses for their children.

Pat Bollar, from Rupert, asked that lawmakers "please don't demean the importance of teachers in the classroom." She said that using technology to replace teachers ignores the reality of how students learn.

Ryan Kerby, the superintendent in New Plymouth, said he supports Luna's plan with some changes, including reducing the number of online courses from two each year to two for all of high school.

Brandie VanOrder, a Boise State junior, and Jason Denizac, with the Idaho Student Association, argued on testified on behalf of more funding for college education.

"When state funding decreases and we students have to fund our own education, we end up asking, 'How am I going to pay these bills this month rather than when am I going to do my homework?' " VanOrder said.

Kaitlin Howell, a student at Boise's Capital High, said her experience with online courses was poor and asked lawmakers not to require additional online courses.

Sheri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, said educators in the state are "offended by the idea we haven't been putting students first all along." She said Luna's plan was "hastily" put together.

LaVon Dresen, a third-grade teacher in Emmett and a self-described conservative, said adding two to five more students to her classroom would cause many issues. "In this plan, I see a lot of things that are going to harm our children and not a whole lot that is going to help them," Dresen said.

Britton Blauer, a teacher from Pocatello, said her family struggled because of pay cuts that she and her teacher husband had to take. Blauer cried when discussing taking a second job "not because I wanted to, not because I had spare time, but because I had to support my family." She said the 29 students in her classes "deserve individual attention every day."

Luna responds to testimony

As the committee continues to take testimony, Luna said the teachers' union distributed talking points to its members and made an organized effort to "get people here from all around the state."

He said the firefighters' union "sent out an e-mail saying to show up to support the teachers but don't tell anyone who you are with."

Because of those efforts, Luna expected a bigger crowd. There is no sign of firefighters at the Capitol.

"There's a process when you live in a republic. Everybody has not just the privilege but the right to be heard," Luna said. "That's what's happening today and I suspect it will happen a few more times before this legislation is on the governor's desk."

He said much of the testimony has been filled with misconceptions, especially about online courses. Luna said those courses are taught by an Idaho-certified teacher.

Luna said comments from school administrators, superintendents and school board members about the need for flexibility is something he will keep in mind moving forward.

"As this plays out and rolls out, it's important that school boards and superintendents are comfortable with the amount of flexibility they have," Luna said.

Back to testimony

Terry Soule, a teacher at Canyon Springs in Caldwell, joked that he could not believe the United State made it to the moon without online classes.

"You need to step up and find the income to invest in the future of this state," Soule said.

Jennifer Swindell, the public information officer for the Caldwell School District, said her district supports Luna's plan because "we can't take more cuts to education funding."

She said if pay-for-performance had been in place the last couple years, teachers in Caldwell would have made a lot of money.

John Gannon, a former Democratic state representative, urged lawmakers to not let a statewide policy "usurp the role of local school boards."

Though the meeting was scheduled to end at 11 a.m., chairwoman Maxine Bell said the committee would continue to take testimony from out-of-area residents.

Bell said more than 130 people signed up to speak. She encouraged others to send their comments via technology, which drew a laugh in the room.

Many in the audience left at 11 a.m., but the 240 seats in the room remain almost completely filled.

Rebecca Bohman, from Idaho Falls, testified that "virtual education works and it works for young kids."
She said she has been teaching her children through K12 and the Idaho Virtual Learning Academy. "It gives my children a very customized education and they have been able to move ahead," she said.

Wood's rebuttal

Idaho Education Association president Sherri Wood said it is common for her organization to pay for travel and meals for members that travel to conferences or hearings, as it did for Friday's committee meeting.

"Why shouldn't we do that?" Wood said. "That's our responsibility. That's what we're about."

Wood said parents have been telling teachers that they are concerned about aspects of Luna's proposal since it was first unveiled.

"It's very exciting to see that many citizens of the state of Idaho are concerned about what's happening with the Luna plan and that they turned out today to express their opinion," she said.

"You cannot replace a caring, dedicated teacher with a computer."

You can follow Idaho Statesman Politics on Twitter.

Will these baby factories...

...bring their checkbook to donate money to the education fund to pay the way for their dropplings, as in "user fees", as suggested by the governor earlier?

No...

they just want to complain and they want you to pay for it...Just complainers...no solutions....

I think their point

I think their point is that THEY are willing to pay for it and you should want to as well. Why do you assume they're only asking someone else to pay?

hey,

someone payed for you

My parents did!

It wasn't "public funded" schools!

So

Your whole family attended Private schools?

Wish mine could.

Well, if your family is not rich

That is clearly your fault and means that you are immoral. You brought it upon yourself.

Mea farrow

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

They're STILL paying every day.

So much for that two minutes of bliss all those years ago...

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

Run the meeting in the

Run the meeting in the morning on a school day so no teachers/faculty can attend. Brilliant!

Who Cares!

Why should we care what unionist teachers and administrators think? OF COURSE they don't want incentive pay, or a repeal of the idiotic tenure program, or anything that might diminish the power of their precious union. We know what they want -- fewer hours, lifetime job guarantees, and more money. (You don't see anything in there about improving children's education, do you...)

Yep,

thats what they want. My wife is a teacher, Republican and anti-union, so don't go there.

Don't mess with Jimmy's woman.

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

Wow

Incentive pay does little if anything to enhance a child's education. Not one teacher I know of cares about higher pay, lifetime guarantees or more money, but please let Rush and Beck tell you that's all they care about. It has always been about the kids for teachers that is why they are in the field they are in, but for the Republicans it's about busting up the union and not about kids education. Majority of the teachers I know have one or two master's degree and some doctorates and get paid between 30-55k a year.

Really?

So, where did you go to school? In Idaho? Or did you move here from somewhere else like most of the complainers on this board? I would really be curious to learn where some of you folks came from to begin with because you don't sound like those of us who are native to this state. "Unionists"? You know anything about Idaho history, or did you miss that class in school?

I'm calling you out: Are you from Idaho? You actually know anyone who teaches? You have kids educated in this state?

Love Idaho

to Emiratesflyboy,

Idaho schools are OK.
I have 3 degrees from the University of Idaho.
My wife grew up in Idaho Falls and graduated from the U of I, too.
My son and daughter graduated from CDA High School;
my son graduated from the U of I, my daughter attended BSU but graduated from the University of Utah.
I taught High School in Culdesac Idaho.
I was a substitute teacher in CDA/Post Falls for 8 years.

So who cares where we're from?
It'd take more than cheap shots to get me out of Idaho.

Idaho never has and probably never will have one of the elite school systems in the country.
But it has always had one of the most cost effective systems.
Why? Because the people of Idaho know the value of a good/OK education.

For example, the U of I College of Law will never be rated by
"U.S. News and World Report" as on top with Harvard, U of Michigan, Stanford.
But as a military JAG I competed successfully with lawyers from all of those top-rated schools.
And I didn't have to incur 10s of thousands of dollars of debt to do it.
(I went on to attend legal courses at U of Virgina, Georgetown, Alabama, Nevada Reno, Northwestern)

So where am I from?
Chicago! And educated in one of strongest High School school systems in the country--financed by steel mills, stockyards, Sears.
(P.S. I'm not a Bears fan. Went to see the Chicago Cardinals play at Comisky Park)
Was I any smarter than my buddies from Emmett and Marsing? No.
My wife was educated in Idaho Falls. Am I any smarter than her? No.
(her brother went on to graduate from Harvard, her sister from Berkeley--are they any smarter than her--a U of I graduate? No.)
Are we any smarter than on-line Luna? No.

My kids were educated in on-base military federal schools in North Carolina.
Unfortunately, when they transferred to CDA High--they received little additional education.

But they survived. Kids usually tend to graduate from high school despite the teachers and schools.
My daughter's kids are now being home-schooled in Vancouver, Washington (supposedly the WA school system is better than Idaho's--Well?)

With this experience with the good, the bad and the ugly of Idaho schools, I see 2 critical factors--
1. Early pre-school education and
2. Small classroom size
(the "New Vision" Alternative school here in Post Falls has small class room size, low costs and very dedicated teachers--making up for a poor start in our general educational system)

But Idahoans must be very careful of the costs.
Rep. Frank Henderson has championed post-high-school technical education in Kootenai County and watched the money at the same time.
Give educators and politicians a chance to thrash this out.
Are they any smarter than taxpayers? No.

But, please don't ask where they're from.
They work in Idaho!

Nice bio,

and well put.

K-5 Nampa, finished in Malheur County. Family still there.

We've been observing your civilzation via your primative communications methods for 32 of your orbital cycles. Our Queen is perplexed!

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

Incentive pay sometimes backfires even in business.

People do what they are incentivized to do. If the incentives are vague, or if in some instances they run contrary to what is best for the company in that particular situation, people will still do what they are incentivized to do. So if you incentivize a manager to reduce his budget, he will do so, even if it is detrimental to customer service and the long term health of the company. If you incentivize teachers to get good test scores, they will teach to the test and perhaps nothing more.

Monetary incentives also appeal to one of the basest of emotions; greed. Not everyone operates that way. Republicans tend to assume everyone does because it appears to me that is what primarily motivates them.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

Which is why the evaluation process

needs to weed these folk out. A true professional will buck a bad trend and try to do what is best for the longevity of the organization which employs them. I know I have in my professional career and have had to explain my motives more than once but have typically been successful at true support of the system and rewarded thusly. Those teachers that are in it just for the maximum money that they can extract are part of the problem and should be removed. Those who truly support a working, successful education system should be rewarded.

Poobah, you haven't studied organizational dynamics much...

The application of 'I'm this way, everyone is/should be this way' is one of the fallacies that create tremendous problems in business.
Take small business accounting and financial controls (or lack of), the 'I'm honest, my employees will be honest' has caused more businesses to crash and burn than anything.

Also, your premise of 'get those teachers that are motivated by money out of the system', does not work well with 'let's motivate the best teachers by giving them more money'. Either the money will be a motivator or not. For many teachers the motivation has been that they can do something they love to do and are good at, while making a reasonable living with decent benefits and longevity provided by tenure. Luna wants to destroy that motivation and replace with one based on the greed of the teacher. How is that good for education?

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

It's not necessarily GREED...

Sometimes it's that McDonalds is going to raise prices soon (on the news today) and there's no time to waste.

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

Are you serious?

Teachers don't attend college for 4 years, get certified in their field and then take extra required courses to keep their certification in order to get fewer hours, lifetime jobs and more money. Anyone who goes into education knows beforehand that there are long hours and not alot of money in the field. Teachers go into teaching because they want to provide an education that will help kids achieve a better life. And in the State of Idaho, for the privilege of teaching, they get an overcrowded and underfunded educational system. As thanks for working long hours and spending their own money on supplies, they get an Idaho political culture that aims to hurt public schools and help private schools by cutting public education so drastically that the only way for parents to get a quality education is to send their kids to a private school.

Most of the teachers I know

Most of the teachers I know go into the field because they like kids and want to help them learn. However, there are the few who do it because they get the summers off and "how hard can it be to teach these kids?"
There are many people who work in state government that have degrees in their fields. Some with Masters degrees and even PhD's. Since they work for the state they do not get paid what the same position in the private sector is earning. Not even close. All state agencies have received cuts and are working fewer hours for no pay. The education system shouldn't be above all the other agencies who have taken ALL the cuts in the past three years. It is time for education to take their hits too. We all work hard to do our jobs, teachers aren't the only ones.

Concur!

I concur with your comments. I likewise know many teachers and those aspiring to be teachers who openly comment about having to work 190 days versus 260. They pride themselves with having that option. However, some of them are excellent teachers and likewise, at the other end of the scale, are those who have no business in education but have tenure or continuing contracts but should be eliminated. No job should be guaranteed for life or the length at the employees chosing but should be in the complete control of the school board. There is due process either way with tenure or without.

all the cuts?

When you make an argument that education has been spared from being cut unlike other agencies during the last three years, you need to have all the facts first. K-12 funding was cut by more than $128 million last year, as well as the percentage being added to the budget being cut the previous two years. That in effect was a cut to the educational system. Higher Education funding has been cut by almost 25% the last three years.

I Care!

Burnanator,

Please check out these two websites.

http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/meritpay.htm

http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-925/tenure.htm

Please check this out, too.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/education/04laptop.html?_r=2&sq=getting rid of laptop program in schools&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=print

Important link everyone should read.

Thanks for posting.
There is a lot to debate on this subject, but it appears Luna wants to use the budget crisis to drastically alter the Idaho education system for political reasons, and not to better education in Idaho.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

Jimmy,

Remember these comments are also in written format and citizens have been provided the information to submit their written comments. This is nothing more than an oportunity for a dog/pony show to make citizens feel good to publicly make their comments. All comments, written or personal, will be available to the committee and available to others.

I agree on the dog and pony.

Like they will take any written views seriously though...

Oh PLEASE....

You computerized hillbilies think hard drives are made or stone. Stuck on the 'permanent record' theory!

Spell NAIVE backward and spill it afterward, you will be all wet, or at least partly.

NEXT

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

Next Election is less than 2 Yrs away

I believe the Luna plan, if enacted, is going to be a whole scale debacle. It is based on sketchy studies (most of which can be refuted by much more recognized studies), a hint of scandal (campaign contributions by technology companies to certain candidates and back door dealings with certain School Superintendents), and almost 100% disagreement by the parents. Even though I am a conservative, I think the current system works and feel that if this plan goes through there will be big trouble for our kids. If this plan is enacted, I will be voting for the Dem’s in the next election. It is obvious that this lop-sided one-party state has got to achieve some political balance if the party in power is going to buy into a bad plan with the thinking that technology is going to save the day and make it easier on the legislature to determine how to balance the budget.

Legislators, you need to be concerned for your jobs. November 2012 is less than 2 years away and I expect the voting backlash against you will be as strong as the Obama-Care backlash of 2010!!!!

Oh..the Right is Scared?

if dems win, what then?....back to this over-spending mess?...yes elections are two years away and the economy and dollar will haunt the prez for re-election....only unions and non-workers will vote for this mess again....you watch...we being lied to on economy....it will go backwards again this fall 2011....why? cause economy is on false dollar and way too much is now owed to foreign investors.....we will see?

But yet no

alternative suggestions? If you believe that the plan is bad, explain exactly why and what a good plan should look like.

Luna & Otter = Epic Failure

Some assembly required, $49.99 dealer doc fee not included, some may experience constipation, night sweats, rashes and hives ....

Luna's plan is utter madness

I hope the Legislature will finally show some intelligence and kill Luna's nonrandom act of insanity. If it doesn't, then all of the state's public school teachers should band together and quit once this school year is over.

Teachers' Innput: NOT WELCOME

In 36 years of teaching school, I always found that the teachers' professional input was never welcome at meetings to determine the course of students' education. Teachers are required to go thru professional training and testing to become certified, and then their solidly based decision making input is always cast aside. Parents should support and encourage their kids' education, teachers should teach. Merit Pay: shall prove to be a divisive element in any faculty in which it is instituted. Administrators like their butts kissed. Good teachers lips aren't shaped right to kiss butt. Good teachers will join the dinosaurs.

Luna

Has a GED and an online education degree in weights and measures, yet Idaho puts him in charge of public education. Great. He was put in charge to bust up the union...plain and simple. I wish he would just come out and say it instead hiding behind all this fluff about the children.

Look at what happened when the Republicans tried to bust up the union for the Ada County Sheriffs...Sheriffs protested and threaten to strike and the same thing will happen with the education union. Yet, we will still be where we are and the kids will suffer.

If you are complaining

and you are a Republican who voted these guys in, stop complaining. You got exactly what you voted for.

...

My wife and I are Republicans, she is also a teacher. We were against Loona big time. I can't believe people voted someone into this position that has an on-line degree and no experience in teaching. Unreal.

Did you vote for Republicans in the legislature?

Who do you think votes on this plan?

I voted R

and I'm not complaining....if teachers quit....I'll apply....

Now ugly, we know your grip on reality is a little loose, but

really...if you want to put in for a job starting at 30k, why not do it now?

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

Actually it's more like $29,600

Teachers start at a few cents over the minimum living wage.

Thats the cost of flying Air Force 1, for 10 minutes.

A sad shame, isn't it?

So?

Butch & Luna get to fly on Air Force 1 now?

Do you recommend Greyhound?

If no, what's the point?

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

They are great pets and you should consider a rescue 'hound.

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

It is always amusing

to read the illogic and contrived arguments of "Progressives" "Labor Unionists" and Marxist Tap Dancing Clowns. Some of the comments above are hilarious examples of the monotonous spasms and constant drumbeat of the Leftist minority that seeks to control the agenda of the State of Idaho.