The EDge, Kevin Richert's Idaho Education blog

Book fundraiser meets its target

Apr 22nd, 2014

(UPDATED, 11:31 a.m. Tuesday, with details on the book distribution.)

Two Washington women say they have met their goal, and have raised enough money to provide 350 copies of a controversial novel to Meridian students.

Sara Baker, a University of Washington student, and Jennifer Lott of Spokane, Wash., said they wanted to raise the money to buy copies of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Sherman Alexie’s 2007 novel remains on limbo in the Meridian School District; the school board has removed the book from the district’s supplemental reading list, amidst complaints about the book’s obscenities and references to masturbation.

The fundraising drive has netted $3,000, Baker told Boise State Public Radio. That should be enough money to buy a book for every student who signed a petition urging the Meridian district to keep the book in the schools.

“I’ve heard from students that said they read the book and really loved it,” Baker told Jessica Robinson of Boise State Public Radio. “I’ve had English teachers tell me that they teach it in their curriculum and it engages students that hate to read. And then just general fans of the book that can’t believe the people who want to ban it even read the same book.”

The books will be handed out starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park, 1900 N. Records Ave., Meridian. (Details from Bill Roberts of the Idaho Statesman.)

Click here for the backstory about the Meridian School Board’s April 1 vote.

Snake River teacher keeps her job

Apr 22nd, 2014

Embattled Snake River High School science teacher will remain on the job — but faces a year’s probation — in the face of a harassment and bullying complaint.

The Eastern Idaho school district announced the decision Monday night, bringing closure to a complaint that has divided the teaching staff.

On Monday, Asmus expressed appreciation for the community’s support, but also said she wants to know why the district found her in violation of district policies and state teachers’ standards.

“That’s serious,” Asmus told the Idaho State Journal.

The harassment and bullying complaint centered on a confrontation between Asmus and Laura Gabrylczyk, a Snake River Junior High School science teacher and the wife of Superintendent Mark Gabrylczyk. The two teachers got into a shouting match over the use of school equipment, according to the district’s findings of fact.

Those findings were something of a mixed bag, the Journal reported. The report praises Asmus as an award-winning teacher who has the support of the community and students, but it also says the veteran teacher has been “intolerant, judgmental and insensitive to the effect her actions were having on other members of the staff.”

Click here for backstory on the district’s hearings on Asmus.

Bedke pushes for lands transfer

Apr 21st, 2014

House Speaker Scott Bedke joined about 50 politicians from nine states Friday, to discuss ways to wrest control of public lands from federal management to state jurisdiction.


House Speaker Scott Bedke

The daylong summit meeting itself was closed to the public, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. But afterwards, Bedke joined about a dozen other elected officials to argue for a transfer.

“It’s time the states in the West come of age,” Bedke said. “We’re every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”

Public lands jurisdiction is a contentious issue with a K-12 education connection. Supporters of a transfer say states can better manage public lands, allowing multiple uses that would better fund education. Critics say the exorbitant cost of administration on millions of acres of public lands would exceed any new revenues from state-managed lands.

The Legislature has a committee studying the issue. Its recommendations are not due until 2015, but the 2013 Legislature already passed a resolution demanding just such a transfer.


Blaine picks superintendent finalists

Apr 17th, 2014

Dr. GwenCarol Holmes

GwenCarol Holmes

Dr. Richard Canfield

Richard Canfield

The Blaine County School District has named two finalists for its vacant superintendent’s position, and patrons will have a chance to meet them Tuesday.

The finalists are GwenCarol Holmes, chief academic officer of Alexandria Public Schools in Alexandria, Va.; and Richard Canfield, superintendent for Sandwich Public Schools in Cape Cod, Mass. (Here’s more about both of the finalists, from a district news release and from  Julie Wootton of the Twin Falls Times-News.)

The school district will hold a public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the distance learning lab at Wood River High School in Hailey. The school board hopes to hire a new superintendent by the end of next week.

The post has been vacant since September, when superintendent Lonnie Barber and the district parted ways over what the district called “differences in leadership style and approach.” Barber left with nearly three years left on his contract, and was awarded a $600,000 settlement.

Homedale shifts to four-day schedule

Apr 16th, 2014

Homedale has joined the growing number of Idaho school districts shifting to a four-day schedule.

Trustees approved the change Monday, and the new calendar will go into effect in 2014-15.

Cost was a driving consideration. Citing a 2011 study, Superintendent Rob Sauer has said the move will save the district $40,000 to $70,000 a year.

Homedale is facing a budget crunch, after voters in the Owyhee County district rejected two supplemental levies in 2013. Both levies would have raised $968,200 over two years.

In 2013-14, 40 of Idaho’s 115 school districts used a four-day schedule, as well as nine charter schools. That number increased sharply during the Great Recession, according to State Department of Education records. In 2008-09, at the outset of the recession, only 14 school districts and two charter schools had a four-day calendar.

Here’s more about the Homedale decision from the Idaho Press-Tribune.

Balukoff: Lanza ouster ‘endemic cronyism’

Apr 15th, 2014

Balukoff announcement

A.J. Balukoff

Mike Lanza’s ouster from the state’s education task force effort is a sign of a broken, closed political process, Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff said Tuesday.

“That’s a sign of a broken, one-party system, of endemic cronyism—and it’s got to end,” Balukoff said in a campaign fundraising email.

Lanza, a driving force behind the repeal of state superintendent Tom Luna’s 2011 education laws, was one of 31 members of Otter’s education task force. The group completed its work last summer, but new groups have been assembled to build on the task force’s recommendations.

Mike Lanza

Mike Lanza

Lanza was pulled from one of these followup groups, weeks after joining Balukoff’s campaign as education adviser and spokesman.

Wrote Balukoff: “(Lanza is) experienced and passionate and I’m thrilled to have him on Team Balukoff.   Having served on more boards than I can count, I know that diversity in opinion only strengthens the board and the organization for which it serves. …

“Punishing Idahoans for having a difference of opinion or belonging to a different party is wrong and it promises that our government will continue to take place behind closed doors, with sweetheart deals, where the people of Idaho are disallowed from having a say.”

Meridian book vote prompts fundraiser

Apr 15th, 2014

Two weeks after Meridian trustees voted to keep a controversial novel in administrative limbo, two women are raising money to put the book into students’ hands.

Jennifer Lott of Spokane, Wash, and Sara Baker of Seattle are raising money to buy 350 copies of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” They want to buy one book for every student who signed petitions urging the School Board to return the 2007 Sherman Alexie novel to the school reading list.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian“Blocking students from learning about controversial ideas just never seems to work, in my experience,” Lott told the Inlander in Spokane.

According to the Inlander, Lott and Baker are working with a Meridian teacher who hopes to distribute the donated books on April 23, in honor of World Book Night.

Alexie’s novel is written from the perspective of an American Indian teen-ager who is trying to adjust to an all-white high school. Critics object to the book’s profanity and references to masturbation, and say the book advances anti-Christian themes. Supporters say the book delivers a powerful message about assimilation.

The novel had been on the Meridian district’s supplemental reading list, but was removed earlier this year in response to parent complaints. The School Board voted on April 1 to keep the book on hold, search for a possible book to take its place on the supplemental list, and launch a full review of district reading lists. That means the book could be permanently removed from the district’s reading list — or possibly reinstated.

For more reactions to the Meridian School Board vote, click on this link.

Jensen: Give to schools, not campaign

Apr 14th, 2014

State schools superintendent candidate Randy Jensen says he doesn’t want money from his supporters.

Instead, the says he’d like to see supporters donate to the school of their choice — and take advantage of several state and federal tax breaks in the process.

Randy Jensen

American Falls Republican Randy Jensen, announcing his candidacy at the Statehouse in January.

“For the same out-of-pocket expense someone can donate $500 to a school or $100 to my campaign,” Jensen, an American Falls principal, said in a news release Monday. “I would rather a school of the donor’s choice get $500.”

Jensen points out that a state school tax credit can cover up to 50 percent of an individual, family or corporate donation to a school. Other tax credits and deductions can further reduce the out-of-pocket cost.

Jensen is one of four Republicans running in the May 20 GOP primary, along with John Eynon of Grangeville, Andy Grover of Melba and Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home. Jana Jones of Idaho Falls is the lone Democrat in the race.

It is unclear yet how much money Jensen — or anyone — has raised in this race. All five candidates launched their campaigns earlier this year, and did not have to file annual fundraising reports for 2013. Their pre-primary reports are due May 13.

Here’s the news release from the Jensen campaign:

After November, campaign signs, fliers and buttons will have no more than nostalgic value. According to Randy Jensen his purpose for running for the office of superintendent of public instruction is to add value to Idaho schools.

“From the very beginning of this campaign I said I was running to help Idaho students. I believe I have the experience and understanding to make Idaho schools better in the next four years. If we honestly look at the campaign process, leaflets, mailers, stickers and yard signs will get my name out there, but after November what help is a yard sign with my name on it to a student in Post Falls or Rexburg?” asked Jensen.

Rather than donating to his political campaign Jensen is asking Idahoans to donate to their local schools and take advantage of the Idaho Education Tax Credit. Individuals can receive a tax credit of 50 percent on donations up to $1,000, couples filing jointly can receive the same credit on a donation up to $2,000 and Idaho corporations can receive a 50% tax credit on donations up to $10,000. There are other deductions available as well those making a qualifying Idaho Education Tax Credit donation that file an itemized return can include the donation on their state and federal tax returns as charitable donations.

An individual or couple in the 25 percent tax bracket making a $500 donation to their local school would be eligible for an Idaho Education Tax Credit of $250, federal deduction of $125 and an Idaho tax deduction of $39. The original $500 donation would then only cost that individual or couple $86 out-of-pocket.

“For the same out-of-pocket expense someone can donate $500 to a school or $100 to my campaign. I would rather a school of the donor’s choice get $500. Few people are aware of the great tax advantage of donating to schools.” Jensen added.

Donors can ask districts to use their donations for the program of their choice.  They could buy library books, donate to the band, choir or technology.

“As a school administrator I would use a $500 donation to buy books for our school library,” said Jensen.

Here is what other educators around the state say they would spend $500 on to better the schools they run:

  • Andy Wiseman, Castleford High School: “More student attendance incentives.”
  • Matt Schvaneveldt, Kimberly Middle School: “Classroom technology.”
  • JoAnne Greear, Jenifer Junior High, Lewiston: “I would invite teachers to write mini-grants to fund classroom needs.”
  • Jim Brown, Bridge Academy, Twin Falls: “Evening Parent-Programs that include dinners.”

Jensen said asking citizens to make a donation to their local schools rather than his campaign is about returning focus to helping students.

“Campaigns are a prolonged job interview. By asking you to donate to students and not to my campaign I am really asking you to join in my vision for the office of Idaho superintendent of public instruction. That vision is to do everything we possibly can to give Idaho students every advantage imaginable,” Jensen said.

For more information about the Education Tax Credit contact your local school district office or visit

Each financial situation is unique and must be evaluated as such. Consult a financial adviser to determine specifics of your particular situation.


Homedale considers four-day week

Apr 14th, 2014

Twice in 2013, voters in Southwest Idaho’s Homedale School District rejected supplemental school levies.

Tonight, Homedale trustees are poised to make a vote of their own — to decide whether to shift to a four-day school week.

The district began looking at the idea in November, three months after the second vote against a supplemental levy. A committee is recommending the move, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported Monday.

“Initially (the idea) was around finances, but then the committee found a lot of positive opportunities available for enrichment and professional development for staff,” Superintendent Rob Sauer told the Press-Tribune.

Citing a 2011 study, Sauer told the Press-Tribune that a schedule shift could save the district $40,000 to $70,000 per year. A year ago, voters had rejected levies that would have raised $968,200 over two years.

Dueling secretary of state endorsements

Apr 11th, 2014

(UPDATED, 4:54 p.m., with endorsements for Mitch Toryanski and Lawerence Denney.)

Ada County deputy clerk Phil McGrane picked up another prominent endorsement in his run for secretary of state — this time from former state Controller Donna Jones.

Phil McGrane

Phil McGrane

Last week, McGrane received endorsements from former Gov. Phil Batt and retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is stepping aside after 12 years in the office.

Meanwhile, former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise added three current state senators to his roster of supporters: Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise; Jim Rice of Caldwell; and Dan Johnson of Lewiston.

And state Rep. Lawerence Denney lined up endorsements from U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and state Treasurer Ron Crane, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey reported Friday.

McGrane and Toryanski are two of four Republicans seeking to succeed Ysursa; state Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale and former legislator Evan Frasure of Pocatello will also appear on the May 20 primary ballot. State Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise is running on the Democratic Party ticket.

Mitch Toryanski

Mitch Toryanski

The secretary of state’s most prominent role is serving as Idaho’s chief elections officer. But the secretary of state also is one of five members of the state Land Board, which makes state land endowment decisions that affect K-12 education and other beneficiaries.

Here’s the McGrane news release:

The Phil McGrane for secretary of state campaign today announced that former state controller and legislator Donna Jones had joined a growing number of stalwart Republicans who have endorsed McGrane’s candidacy. 

“The secretary of state’s office plays a vital, daily role for Idaho and there is no time for someone without genuine experience to master the steep learning curve this position entails. From his first day on the job our next secretary of state needs to be ready to oversee the elections process, lobbyist and campaign reporting, business filings and work with the other constitutional officers on the Land Board to make the best decisions for our state. Phil McGrane’s background and experience makes him the only qualified candidate in this race that can get the job done,” said Donna Jones.


Lawerence Denney

And here is the Toryanski news release:

Mitch Toryanski, West Point graduate, a 30-year U.S. Army veteran and former deputy attorney general and Idaho state senator, announced the expansion of his campaign team with the addition of Sen. Chuck Winder of Boise, Sen. Jim Rice of Caldwell and Sen. Dan Johnson of  Lewiston.

“My wife, Kim, and I are very blessed to have the support of such an accomplished group of Idaho citizens. These leaders, representing hundreds of thousands of Idahoans, have made great contributions to our state and have provided exceptional service to their communities. We are so appreciative of the trust and confidence that they have placed in me to faithfully perform the duties of secretary of state.”

Freda Cenarrusa, wife of Pete Cenarrusa, Idaho’s secretary of state for over 35 years is the campaign chair.

The balance of the Toryanski for Idaho Campaign Committee includes:

State Sen. Steve Bair of Blackfoot

State Sen. Bert Brackett of Rogerson

State Sen. Marv Hagedorn of Meridian

Rep. Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls

State Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls

State Sen. (retired) Shirley McKague of Meridian

State Sen. Curtis McKenzie of Nampa

State Sen. Jim Patrick of Twin Falls

State Sen. Jeff Siddoway of Terreton

State Rep. (retired) Leon Smith of Twin Falls

Mr. Dar Symms of Caldwell.


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