Few speak at task force’s Lewiston forum

Six people took less than an hour to express their thoughts about education in Idaho in front of an audience of 27 on the Lewis-Clark State College campus. The Lewiston event was the smallest listening session of three hosted so far by the governor’s education task force, assembled to produce statewide recommendations for reform. The task force is holding four more forums.

“I’m disappointed,” said Connie Miller, a retired engineer. “There were no ideas presented.”

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Lewiston teacher Jill Schmidt

Four educators stepped to the podium, saying mostly that schools need more money and smaller class sizes. Nine-year lawmaker Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, also emphasized that Idaho K-12 education does not have enough money to be successful.

“You can’t get superior results with bottom-of-the-barrel funding,” Rusche said. “Let’s aim for average funding.”

Miller spoke last and asked: “Where are we going to get the money? Increase income taxes for teacher salaries?”

Four members of the 31-member task force attended Monday night — Sen. John Goedde (chairman of the Senate Education Committee), Wayne Freedman (Idaho School Boards Association), Steve Higgins (Idaho Association of School Administrators) and Richard Westerberg (Idaho State Board of Education).

The next listening session is Tuesday, April, 16, at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. (IdahoEdNews.org will be there so check back here for coverage or follow the meeting on Twitter @idahoednews).

Alex Church spoke first. He grew up in Lewiston, went to college at Lewis-Clark and elected to teach for the Lewiston School District.

“If I was starting over again, I would go across the river and teach (in Washington),” he said. “The difference in salary between Lewiston and Clarkston is about $13,000.”

He also expressed his dislike for bonuses and instead wants an increase in base salaries.

“If you really want the best for teachers, you can’t do it through pay for performance,” he said. “The Legislature is looking for ways to poke teachers in the eye.”

Jill Schmidt, a Lewiston School District teacher for more than 30 years, focused her talk on teacher accountability.

“Pay for performance cannot be based on a silly test,” she said. “I want to be accountable for what I do, but a test is not the way to do it.

“It’s not always about money – it’s respect for what we do.”

Rusche had a list of ideas for the task force, including making evidence-based recommendations for change and having a “robust early education” program.

Kindergarten teacher Melinda Genoway’s idea for improving education was to invest in the “earliest learners.” She teaches half-day kindergarten and she encouraged funding full-day programs, making kindergarten a requirement and reducing class sizes.

Retired teacher, coach and administrator Ken Krahn said the state should support smaller class sizes so that teachers can teach instead of being “babysitters.”

“Make preschool mandatory and require kids to learn a foreign language when they are three or four years old,” Krahn said. “Increase the funding from the bottom up.”

He said educators are getting cheated out of sales tax money and lottery money.

Lewiston School District superintendent Joy Rapp got the night’s final words. She didn’t step to the podium, but from the crowd asked the task force to put more time back into school, both in the classroom and for professional development.