Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot has spent more than $200,000 to back his friend Tom Luna's education reforms and promises to do more after news that the National Education Association gave more than $1 million to opponents.
But VanderSloot says he's ambivalent about Proposition 3, which mandates two online classes for graduation and would put a laptop in the hands of every Idaho high school student.
"I'm not very enamored with Prop 3," VanderSloot told me Thursday. "I never have been."
VanderSloot said he enthusiastically supports Propositions 1 and 2, which restrict union bargaining rights; end continuing contracts, or tenure, for teachers; and establish bonuses for about 80 percent of Idaho teachers.
But the technology mandate -- which has been the focus of the campaign seeking to overturn Superintendent of Public Instruction Luna's 2011 laws -- leaves VanderSloot cold.
"When push comes to shove, I'll probably vote for Prop 3," VanderSloot said, adding that he doesn't think the mandates are necessary. "Technology is going to come, one way or another."
If Prop 3 fails and the technology mandates repealed, VanderSloot said he's confident the Legislature would rework the idea. "It can be voted on again in the next legislative session. It can be dealt with, evaluated, reconstructed, whatever."
The timing for Proposition 1, however, is urgent, VanderSloot said. "We won't get that again in the next decade, and Prop 2, not either."
VanderSloot draws from his own experience with 14 children in speaking with passion about making it easier to fire teachers. "There are some really bad teachers. I've had children who've been impacted for life because of (bad teachers); just a couple. If we run into a couple, there must be a lot out there."
He also shared a great bit of inside baseball regarding a $100,000 check he wrote for the "yes" campaign as he and Luna headed to a fundraiser during the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August. In a story on Tuesday, I wrote about that contribution, suggesting it may have been some of the $200,000 contributed to Education Voters for Idaho, which says its contributors are secret.
VanderSloot said he hasn't contributed to any groups seeking to keep donations in the dark. "I have not given anything undisclosed to anybody," he said. "Either we've spent it directly or we've given to disclosable" groups.
VanderSloot said he wrote a $100,000 check to Luna in a cab.
"I trust Tom Luna," VanderSloot said. "I wrote it to whoever he told me to write it to. We were going to the event. I wrote the check in the cab on the way over. I said, 'Who do I make it out to?' He told me who."
Later, Luna suggested apportioning the money differently, VanderSloot said, and the pair agreed. "It'd be better if we had some here, some here and some here," VanderSloot said.
Sunshine reports filed this week show that Melaleuca gave $30,000 to the Idaho Federation of Republican Women on Sept. 12 and $80,000 more on Sept. 17. In July, he gave $50,000 to YES for Idaho Education, the lead proponent of the propositions.
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