It’s rare to see two U.S. Senate candidates swapping barbs over state K-12 funding, but that was the case Friday.
Democratic Senate candidate Nels Mitchell castigated Republican incumbent Jim Risch for starting Idaho schools on their “race to the bottom,” engineering a tax shift that has left schools underfunded for eight years.
“During his seven months as fill-in governor, Jim Risch did more damage to Idaho’s public schools than all of the legislature’s inadequate budgets put together,” Mitchell said in a news release.
“In 2006, Risch sold the Legislature on a wrong-headed plan to swap public schools’ property tax funding for an increase in the sales tax. He promised us schools wouldn’t lose money. The fact is, they lost big — $50 million in one fell swoop, and that was just the beginning.”
The tax shift eliminated some $260 million in school property taxes with a one-cent increase in the sales tax, worth about $210 million a year. The Legislature passed the bill in August 2006, in a special one-day legislative session convened by then-Gov. Risch. The law was later ratified by 72 percent of voters in a November 2006 advisory vote.
Supporters said the move provided property tax relief at a time when property values were rising rapidly in many parts of the state. Critics, then and now, said the law left local school funding dependent on volatile sales tax collections, and subject to the will of the Legislature.
Risch defended the move Friday — and took a few shots at Mitchell — in a campaign statement to the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey.
“Sen. Risch is proud of his accomplishment of reducing Idahoans’ property taxes by 20 percent. … The fact that Mr. Mitchell is attempting to raise this tax relief issue long after it was debated and ratified by 72 percent of Idahoans is indicative of why Idahoans need Sen. Risch representing them; not someone who has spent his entire adult life living and working in California. Sen. Risch was here, in Idaho, achieving real tax relief for all of Idaho’s citizens.”
Candidates must file their paperwork for the 2014 elections by 5 p.m., March 14.
And we’re watching the comings and goings here, under one roof.
We will keep checking the latest filings from the secretary of state’s office. We’ll keep an eye out for notable news and watch for races that have clear implications for K-12: filings for state Land Board posts, and legislative races involving legislative leadership, the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the education committees.
The secretary of state’s office updates the list at least a couple times a day, so check back here regularly.
Land Board races
Governor: Butch Otter, Republican, Star; Harley Brown, Republican, Nampa. Otter is seeking his third term.
Superintendent of public instruction: Andy Grover, Republican, Melba; Sherri Ybarra, Republican, Mountain Home. Incumbent Tom Luna is not seeking a third term.
Secretary of State: Phil McGrane, Republican, Boise; Mitch Toryanski, Republican, Boise; Holli Woodings, Democrat, Boise. Incumbent Ben Ysursa is not seeking re-election.
Attorney general: Lawrence Wasden, Republican, Nampa (incumbent). Wasden is seeking his fourth term.
Controller: Brandon Woolf, Republican, Boise (incumbent). Appointed in 2012, Woolf will appear on the ballot for the first time.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, is seeking an eighth term in District 27.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, will run for a ninth term in District 14.
House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, will seek a fifth term in District 13.
House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, will seek his fourth term in District 22.
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is seeking his eighth term in District 34.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, is seeking his ninth term in District 33.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, is seeking his fourth term in District 20.
Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, the Senate’s minority leader, is seeking a third term.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, the Senate’s assistant minority leader, is seeking a seventh term in District 17.
Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, the Senate’s minority caucus chairwoman, is seeking her third legislative term in District 19. She also sits on the Senate Education Committee.
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston. The House minority leader is seeking his sixth term in District 6.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. The House’s assistant minority leader is seeking his fourth legislative term, the Senate seat in District 16. Incumbent Sen. Les Bock, D-Garden City, is not seeking re-election, and is running for district court.
Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, the House’s minority caucus chairwoman, is seeking her sixth term. Pence also sits on the House Education Committee.
Who’s missing? Only Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, the Senate’s majority caucus chairman. He is running for governor. His run also creates an opening on the Senate Education Committee.
Senate Education Committee members
Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, is seeking an eighth term in District 4.
Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, is seeking his fifth legislative term in District 30. Mortimer also serves on JFAC.
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, is seeking his sixth legislative term in District 3.
Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, is seeking his fifth legislative term in District 8. Like Mortimer, Thayn also serves on JFAC.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, is seeking a ninth term in District 9.
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, is seeking her second legislative term. She was elected to the House in District 18 in 2012, and appointed to the Senate a year later.
Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, is seeking his fifth legislative term in District 25.
Who’s missing? Fulcher is the only Senate Education Committee member who won’t be seeking re-election to the Legislature.
House Education Committee members
Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, will seek a third term in District 14.
Vice Chairman Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, will seek a seventh term in District 23. He has an opponent in the GOP primary: Steven Millington of Buhl.
Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, will seek a second term in District 3. Terry Werner of Post Falls will face him in the GOP primary.
Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, will seek his seventh term in District 7.
Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, is seeking his second term in District 8.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, is seeking a fourth term in District 9.
Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, is seeking his first full term in District 15. He was appointed in 2014.
Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, is seeking a second term in District 16.
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, is seeking her first full term in District 18. She was appointed in 2014.
Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, is seeking his second term in District 21.
Rep. Richard Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, is seeking his seventh term in District 23.
Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, is seeking his second term in District 24.
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, is seeking her second term in District 30.
Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, is seeking her second term in District 31.
Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, will seek an eighth legislative term in District 33.
Who’s missing? No one. All 16 House Education Committee members have filed for re-election.
Co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, will seek his 13th term in District 27.
Co-chairwoman Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, will seek a 14th term in District 25.
Vice chairwoman Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, is running for a 10th term in District 1.
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, has filed for an eighth term in District 1. He has a Democratic opponent, Bob Vickaryous of Bonners Ferry.
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, will seek a third term in District 5.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, will seek a third term in District 6.
Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, will seek a second term in District 6.
Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, is seeking a second term in District 12. He has a GOP primary opponent, Robert Muse of Nampa, and a Democratic opponent, F. Lawrence Dawson of Nampa.
Rep. Phylis King, a Democrat, has filed for a fifth term in Boise’s District 18, and she already has a Republican challenger: Domenico Gelsomino.
Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Meridian, is seeking his seventh legislative term in District 21.
Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, will seek a second term in District 26.
Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocaello, will seek a third legislative term in District 29.
Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, is seeking his fourth term in District 30.
Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, is seeking his fourth term in District 32.
Who’s missing? Sens. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, and Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood. House vice chairman Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, has said he is not seeking re-election. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is running for Congress.
Senators will get their chance to review — and maybe revamp — a bill designed to tighten student data security.
At Chairman John Goedde’s request, the Senate Education Committee sent his Senate Bill 1372 to the Senate floor for amendment.
As written now, the bill sets up several guidelines to protect student data — a recurring concern raised in the debate of the new Idaho Core Standards. The bill makes clear what is considered student data — such as demographics, grades and test scores. It also makes clear what is not considered student data — information such as criminal records, medical records and biometric data. The bill also would impose civil penalties of up to $50,000 for leaking student data.
Many proponents of the Idaho Core Standards, such as Goedde, have acknowledged the importance of data security — and Gov. Butch Otter advocated a data security bill in his Jan. 6 state of the state address. On Wednesday, State Superintendent Tom Luna described the bill as a must-pass. “To do nothing this session would not come close to addressing concerns I have heard hundreds of times from groups and individuals.”
But the path to passing a data security bill is by no means clear.
When a bill is sent to the floor for amendment, it is open to all kinds of reworking. Any senator can offer up language. And that could include Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who had drafted a competing bill.
Goedde, Pearce and education stakeholders met Tuesday to discuss their bills. “We determined that my bill had the best chance of getting through the legislative process,” Goedde said Wednesday morning.
Pearce, a Senate Education member, did not tip his hand during Wednesday’s meeting about possible amendments he may have in mind.
But Goedde tried to cajole committee members to tread carefully into the amending process. “This is a very, very complex issue.”
An SBAC review committee?
In other news from Senate Education Wednesday, Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Dean Mortimer unveiled a bill to create a 30-member panel to review “the type and kinds of questions that are posed in state assessments.”
The bill, co-sponsored by Goedde, is a response to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, aligned to Idaho Core Standards. Those tests will be field tested in Idaho schools this spring, and are scheduled to be implemented in 2015.
A multistate group drafts the SBAC questions, and Idaho is involved in this process. But Mortimer wants an in-state panel to review the questions for bias and sensitivity — and to have the power to review or reject questions.
Parents would have 12 seats on the panel. Teachers would have six seats, as would school administrators. The remaining six seats would go to school board members or charter school board members.
One day after a pre-kindergarten pilot bill cleared its first legislative hurdle, early education advocacy groups are hoping to build on this momentum.
Idaho Kids Count and the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children issued a four-page brief Tuesday, touting the myriad benefits of pre-kindergarten. Some of the benefits are short-term: preparing young children for school and building reading skills. But the groups also say pre-K will reap long-term benefits — from preparing children for studies in the “STEM” disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to preparing young people for military service.
“Investing in young children is an investment in national security,” the groups said in their brief.
State Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, has written a pre-kindergarten pilot bill, which would establish five programs statewide. The pilots would receive $600,000 in state funding over three years, but 55 percent of program funding would come from private sources.
A divided House Education Committee voted to introduce the bill Monday — which could set the stage for a full hearing at a later date. But with lawmakers hoping to adjourn by March 21, the bill’s chances of passage would appear remote.
Idaho is one of only 10 states that do not fund pre-K. And only a third of the state’s 3- to 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K, according to a previous Kids Count study.
(UPDATED, 5:24 p.m., with comments from Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde.)
The numbers were more or less set Monday, as the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved a $66 million boost in the public schools budget.
But budget-writers left themselves with work to do on two small but contentious pieces of a $1.7 billion budget — high school WiFi technology and the troubled Schoolnet instructional management system.
Both components of the budget are on hold — at least until Thursday — while lawmakers haggle over the details of legislative “intent language.”
Through “intent language,” budget-writers dictate how agencies will spend the money the state has appropriated. And on both WiFi and the instructional management system, the debate does not center on the dollar figures, but instead on the ground rules.
WiFi. JFAC earmarked $2.25 million to continue installing and maintaining wireless technology in high schools and junior high schools. But the question is whether to continue a controversial multiyear contract with Education Networks of America, or allow districts to shop around for their own wireless systems.
State Superintendent Tom Luna has been a vocal supporter of a statewide WiFi system — and ENA, which is supposed to have wireless installed in 175 schools by mid-March. But he said he is comfortable with the “intent language,” since schools would still be required to purchase a WiFi system that meets the same standards set by the state contract.
Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde is leading the push to dismantle the WiFi contract, saying the money should instead go to districts. He told Idaho Education News that he isn’t satisfied with the JFAC “intent language,” and would rather reopen the contract to allow all schools the option to stick with ENA or cut their own deals. This still gives ENA a competitive edge, said Goedde; some districts would opt to stay put simply because ENA’s equipment is already in place.
Instructional management systems. The state is at a crossroads on continuing this system — which is supposed to give teachers student data in real time, so they can model their lesson plans. A three-year, $20.5 million J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation grant has run its course, and the state’s contract with Pearson Education Inc. expires on June 30. The Schoolnet pilot has been rocky, with district officials complaining that the system has been plagued with inaccuracies.
The question for JFAC, and for the rest of the Legislature, is where to proceed. JFAC earmarked $4.5 million for the system — which mirrors the matching funds the state put into Schoolnet in 2013-14. But the JFAC “intent language” lays out two options: rebidding the Pearson contract, or giving districts money to purchase their own instructional management system.
It’s possible that Pearson could again receive the state’s contract, or it’s possible that districts would decide to purchase Schoolnet on their own. But the intent language could also phase out Schoolnet in the future.
On Monday, Luna downplayed the impact of the intent language — and said the state would still own the Schoolnet technology acquired during the pilot phase. “Our efforts are not lost.”
On Thursday, JFAC is expected to chart its course on WiFi and Schoolnet. And another controversial school budget line item is on the docket for Wednesday, when JFAC considers the state Department of Administration’s request for $7.3 million to keep the Idaho Education Network broadband system on hold through 2014-15.
With lawmakers hoping to adjourn on March 21, this shapes up as a crucial week on the education budget front.
More reading: Here’s a detailed analysis on the WiFi and Idaho Education Network controversies.
Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.
Two school district superintendents — one from Alaska, one from Washington state — are the finalists for the superintendent’s job in the Nampa School District.
The finalists are Glenn Gelbrich, superintendent of schools in Juneau, Alaska; and David Peterson, superintendent of the North Mason School District in Belfair, Wash. A citizens’ committee screened applicants for the job, and trustees announced the two finalists Thursday.
The public will get a chance to meet Gelbrich and Peterson Monday — and see PowerPoint presentations from the finalists. A reception will be held at the district’s office, 619 S. Canyon St.
As Nampa digs its way out of a protracted budget crunch, the district is searching for its fourth superintendent since 2012. Interim Superintendent Pete Koehler will retire in June.
Here is the news release from the district:
Two finalists for superintendent of the Nampa School District will be interviewed Monday, March 3, by the Nampa Board of Trustees.
The finalists are Glenn Gelbrich, Juneau School District Superintendent, Juneau, Alaska, and David Peterson, North Mason School District Superintendent, Belfair, Wash.
The public is invited to meet Gelbrich and Peterson during a reception 6:30 p.m., Monday at the district office, 619 S. Canyon St. Superintendent Search Committee Co-Chairmen Rich Hagood and Molly Lenty will emcee the reception, which will include short PowerPoint presentations from each finalist, and an opportunity for the public to meet and talk with the finalists.
The finalists are excited for the opportunity to interview and to learn more about the district and the Nampa community.
Gelbrich said, “I am delighted to be considered for the superintendent role in the Nampa School District. The efforts underway in the school district and the livability of this vibrant community make it an ideal place to live and work. I look forward to the opportunity to get to know the stakeholders in the community better as a part of this process.”
Peterson said, “I am very much enjoying learning about the Nampa community and its schools. The enthusiasm, commitment and optimism of the school leaders I’ve met is both impressive and energizing. This is an exciting opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to getting to meet and talk with everyone during the interview process.”
During their visit to Nampa, the finalists also will tour schools and meet with district, school, and teacher leaders.
About the finalists
In the fall, the board of trustees appointed a community-based Superintendent Search Committee to lead the search for the district’s next superintendent, who will replace Interim Superintendent Pete Koehler, who will retire in June.
The committee sought feedback from stakeholders about the qualities, knowledge, and abilities expected in a superintendent. The committee sponsored 11 focus groups and received more than 900 online responses. Information was used to develop the application, screening tools, and interview questions. In February, the committee forwarded four candidates to the board.
To identify its two finalists, the board reviewed the candidates’ application materials and information gathered by the committee and conducted screening interviews via Skype.
Both finalists are veteran administrators and educators each with more than 30 years of experience in education acquired in small and large school districts in the Pacific Northwest.
They both began their careers as classroom teachers at the elementary level and advanced to become principals and central office administrators before becoming district superintendents.
Below is a brief biography of each finalist.
Glenn Gelbrich has served as superintendent of the Juneau School District since July 2009.
Prior to serving as superintendent, Gelbrich was an assistant superintendent in the Salem-Keizer School District for five years and an assistant superintendent in the Portland (Oregon) School District for three years. He served as a school principal in West Linn, Ore. Gelbrich earned his administrative license from the University of Oregon and master’s degree in education from Oregon State University.
During his tenure in Juneau, Gelbrich has focused on increasing student achievement by leading initiatives to improve instruction and learning. During the recession and sharp reductions in Alaska support for education, he has led stakeholders to identify changes necessary to balance Juneau’s budget.
David Peterson has served as superintendent of the North Mason School District in Belfair, Wash. since July 2007.
Prior to serving as superintendent, Peterson was an assistant superintendent in the Oak Harbor (Washington) School District and central office administrator and principal in the Arlington (Washington) School District. Peterson earned his superintendent’s credential from Seattle Pacific University and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Washington.
During his tenure in North Mason, Peterson focused on improving student achievement and graduation rates. He worked with the School Board to manage reductions in education funding and rebuild the district’s fund balance. Peterson was instrumental in leading the community to pass $49 million construction bond for a new high school and other improvements after three failed attempts in the past 10 years.
As the 2014 Legislature heads into its final weeks, two school technology budget battles are looming. Either, or both, could be hiccups on the Legislature’s path to adjournment — and legislators’ path to the 2014 election season.
More importantly, the outcome could affect how Internet access is delivered to Idaho schools — and who gets the job of providing the service.
They’re two complicated, fast-moving issues. So let’s reboot and catch up on the story so far.
Two big contracts
Gov. Butch Otter
Idaho Education Network. This contract, awarded in 2009, has brought broadband technology into the state’s high schools, and now serves upwards of 90,000 students. Gov. Butch Otter says the network has “proved its worth,” and no one at the Statehouse seems to be disputing the need for broadband in the schools.
But the project is embroiled in controversy. The 2009 contract remains under appeal in District Court. As a result, a Federal Communications Commission contractor is conducting an independent review of the pact. Since March, the feds have withheld funding for the network: “e-rate” funds, from cell phone and landline bills, that comprise about 75 percent of the network budget.
WiFi. In July, the State Department of Education awarded a multimillion dollar contract to install wireless technology. If all goes according to schedule, 175 schools will have state-provided WiFi by mid-March.
Here again, the contract is at the heart of the controversy. Lawmakers said they were blindsided by the deal, which could run 15 years and cost more than $33 million. And contract funding is done on a year-to-year basis, so it’s up to the 2014 Legislature to fund year two of the deal.
Six key players
Sen. John Goedde. The chairman of the Senate Education Committee is a well-positioned critic of the multiyear WiFi contract. This week, he said he will push to dump this contract, and give school districts the money and the latitude to cut their own deals.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert
Sen. Dean Cameron. As JFAC’s co-chairman, every state agency budget has his fingerprints. He has been reluctant to rush into replacing the Idaho Education Network “e-rate” dollars that remain in limbo. He also has been publicly skeptical about the WiFi contract — and on Thursday, he said he’s leaning towards Goedde’s side in the debate over WiFi.
Otter. All budget bills eventually land on his desk, so he gets the last word. He has been uncharacteristically public in his push for Idaho Education Network funding, backing up his administrative team with a news release advocating the spending stopgap. He isn’t tipping his hand on the WiFi issue.
Superintendent Tom Luna. He raised the ire of legislators by signing the WiFi contract. He has continued to defend the need for a statewide contract to “implement and support” wireless, a long-term undertaking. Luna is retiring at year’s end; if push comes to shove on the WiFi issue, how much sway will he have over lawmakers?
Teresa Luna. The head of the state’s Administration Department, and Tom Luna’s sister, has been at the center of the broadband controversy. She infuriated Cameron and JFAC colleagues on Jan. 30, when she broke the news about the delayed “e-rate” payments. Lawmakers got one more surprise from her department this week, with the news that the state had quietly extended the Idaho Education Network contract through 2019 — a year ahead of schedule.
Education Networks of America. This company holds both the Idaho Education Network and the WiFi contracts.
While based in Nashville, Tenn., ENA’s Idaho political impact is considerable. For the 2010 and 2012 elections, the company contributed $38,750 to dozens of Idaho candidates; recipients included Otter, Tom Luna, Goedde and Cameron, among others. But the company has been quiet throughout the recent contract controversies — although Cameron has said the company has threatened to yank broadband if the Idaho Education Network doesn’t get additional funding.
And five bottom line figures
$6.6 million. That’s how much JFAC wants to put into the Idaho Education Network for the rest of 2013-14. It’s not the full $7.15 million Otter requested, but he supports the measure. The spending bill is on the House’s second reading calendar.
Garry Lough, Idaho director of customer service, Education Networks of America
$7.3 million. Otter’s request to keep the Idaho Education Network whole for 2014-15. Budget-writers are balking at that request.
$1,096,700. That’s how much Otter and the Administration Department have requested to begin Idaho Education Network expansion into the middle school and grade schools. Will lawmakers want to expand the program, given the questions about the existing contract?
More than $13 million. That’s how much the state has received in “e-rate” payments for the Idaho Education Network. And if the Idaho Education Network contract is voided, the state could be on the hook for repayment.
$2.25 million. That’s how much Otter and Tom Luna want for the WiFi contract in 2014-15. Goedde isn’t disputing the figure. Instead, he would rather see the money go to districts for their own WiFi projects.
A bill to establish a pre-K pilot program will at least get a hearing this session.
The bill will be on Monday morning’s House Education Committee agenda.
No public testimony will be taken, committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt said. That is standard practice for an introductory hearing to “print” a bill.
Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, and Rep. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg, are co-sponsoring a bill to fund five pilot pre-K programs statewide. The pilots would receive $600,000 in state money over three years, but 55 percent of their funding would come from private sources.
The pre-K pilot program has received backing from early education advocates and an array of supporters — including Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, the Treasure Valley Family YMCA and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
If the bill is printed Monday, it would still need to be brought back to the committee for a full public hearing. Legislative leaders hope to adjourn the 2014 session on March 21, so it appears unlikely that the pre-K bill could navigate through both houses in the remaining weeks of the session.
Disclosure: Idaho Education News is a Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce member.
Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign finance director is a former Education Networks of America staffer who left the company in September.
Martin Bilbao had worked for the Nashville, Tenn.-based company as its Idaho account services manager. Last summer, when ENA submitted a bid for a multiyear high school WiFi installation contract, the company’s 308-page bid cited Bilbao’s ties to Idaho and Idaho Republican politics. In July, ENA won a contract that could extend to 15 years at a cost of more than $33 million.
But since then — and as Otter gears up to run for a third term as governor — two multimillion-dollar ENA contracts have come under scrutiny at the Statehouse:
- John Goedde, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, wants the state to sever ENA’s WiFi contract, and instead provide $2.25 million to school districts to spend on their own systems. Otter has budgeted $2.25 million for the WiFi project, but on Tuesday, he was noncommittal about Goedde’s proposal. “He is open to discussing with our partners in the Legislature, how this Wi-Fi portion of the equation fits into the overall broadband puzzle,” spokesman Jon Hanian said.
- Otter, meanwhile, has taken an active role in pushing for $14.45 million for ENA’s Idaho Education Network. The statewide broadband contract is embroiled in a protracted lawsuit that has left federally administered funding in limbo. Legislative budget-writers are balking at Otter’s proposal to provide $7.3 million for the network in 2014-15; they have approved a $6.6 million stopgap to fund the system through June 30.
Bilbao resigned from ENA, and is not on a leave of absence or retainer, Otter campaign manager Jayson Ronk said Wednesday. He took the full-time campaign finance director’s position in October.
According to Otter’s campaign finance report, Bilbao has been paid $7,548.75 since October.
Bilbao and Ronk have worked together before. He was the state Republican Party’s finance and political director when Ronk worked for the state party. In 2010, Bilbao managed Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s re-election campaign.
“Martin has a deep political background,” Ronk said.
In another twist in the Idaho Education Network broadband contract controversy, lawmakers say they were surprised by the state’s January 2013 decision to extend the contract.
The $10 million contract with Education Networks of America now runs through 2019, the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell reported Tuesday.
The contract wasn’t due for renewal until 2014.
“There’s a lot of questions from the Senate and from the House as to this entire contract the way it was, before they got the five-year extension,” Rep. Jeff Thompson, an Idaho Falls Republican serving on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, told Russell.
The news of the contract renewal comes as the broadband project faces a multimillion-dollar funding crisis — precipitated by a federal contractor’s independent review of the original, 2009 Idaho Education Network contract. The review leaves the bulk of the network’s funding in limbo: “e-rate” dollars collected from cell phone and landline bills.
On Monday, JFAC approved a $6.6 million supplemental budget to keep the network afloat through June 30. Some intrigue surrounds the request: JFAC co-chair, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, has said contractors have threatened to let the network go blank if funding isn’t approved.
Gov. Butch Otter is seeking $7.3 million for the network for 2014-15; lawmakers have not acted on the request.
Click here for more about the Idaho Education Network funding debate.