Listening session: Politicos, public get an earful


The late afternoon “listening session” was designed to give House and Senate education committee members a chance to hear from more Idahoans — such as teachers, who were scarce at an early morning session on Feb. 1.

The two-hour session also gave hundreds of Idahoans a chance to hear the education funding debate firsthand. The crowd quickly filled the Statehouse auditorium, which can seat more than 200 people. Overflow crowds watched video in two adjacent meeting rooms.

The lawmakers and the public heard a reprise of the debate over the Idaho School Boards Association’s controversial collective bargaining laws. But they also heard some other budgetary themes:

Rural concerns. With small-town school administrators in town for the ISBA’s annual lobbying event, several rural officials took the opportunity to discuss their schools’ funding plight. Saint Maries Superintendent Joseph Kren openly fretted about seeking to replace lost state funding through a property tax levy — in a county wrestling with a 13 percent unemployment rate. In Ririe, the school district will seek a levy for the first time since 1932, Superintendent Ron Perrenoud said.

The plight of rural districts was also on the mind of Rigby Republican Rep. JoAn Wood, the Legislature’s senior member. Discussing the challenges of hiring teachers in rural districts, Wood said, “They must have to love the outdoors enough to come to some of our schools and teach.”

Personal property tax. School districts have a $38.6 mllion-a-year stake in the repeal of this unpopular tax on business equipment and furnishings — and several rural educators cautioned against a repeal of the tax.

In the Troy School District, repeal could cost $38,000, said Superintendent Christy Castro. That would be enough to cost the district two part-time positions, including a grade school counselor.

In American Falls, the personal property tax is worth $1.4 million a year, a sum paid predominately by industry. Said American Falls School Board member Dallas Clinger, “Be careful with the big-business personal property tax.”

Charter equity. Charter parents and students made a big showing at the Feb. 1 listening session. They weren’t as prevalent Monday, but charter advocates again argued for increased funding in general — and help with facilities funding in specific. Dan Nicklay of the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy said he doesn’t begrudge — but does envy — the Coeur d’Alene district’s levying authority.

A smattering of teachers. The after-school session didn’t attract many teachers, and they were outnumbered by rural administrators and charter advocates. One teacher who spoke was Gail Chumbley of Eagle High School. House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, warmly welcomed Chumbley, saying the longtime educator had taught some of his children. Chumbley expressed mixed emotions. She said she is retiring at year’s end, lamenting the declining standards of Idaho schools, but she urged educators and politicians to find common ground. “In educating students, we share more in common than not.”

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    “The after -school session didn’t attract many teachers.”

    The IEA begs to differ: “More than 100 educators attended today’s hearing and many of them signed up to testify. However, as today was ISBA’s Annual ‘Day on the Hill,’ a great number of local superintendents and school board members dominated the two-hour timeframe, leaving time for very few teachers and education employees to have three minutes in front of the committee.”

    I was in one of the spillover rooms. Judging by the audience response to the web cast of the listening session we were observing, I would venture to guess that the majority of people in the spillover room were teachers and supporters of teachers. I suspect that the same was true for the main hearing room.

    What was scarce was an opportunity for the committees to hear from teachers. The first 40 minutes or so of the 2-hour session was allocated to what the committee chairmen had determined were stakeholders in the process, a politically expedient move that enables them to say later that they took extraordinary measures to ensure that the voice of the ISBA, IEA, PTA, and IASA were heard . Couple that with the unnecessary dithering and joshing and joking over introductions and the occasional fawning tips o’ the hat to speakers–including Sen. Goedde exercising his “co-chairman’s privilege” to sing the praises of a charter school in his home district–and the time available to teachers who wished to testify was reduced substantially.

    Read the written testimony submitted to the committees if you want a full understanding of the role played by teachers in this “listening hearing.” They were there. They didn’t get a chance to speak.

    In short, there were plenty of teachers there today. Whether they were visible is another question altogether.

  • John McCrostie

    How many is a smattering? If a smattering is a small number, then you failed to report the hundreds of teachers in the overflow. Yep, the number in overflow is hundreds.

  • niji masu

    I was only able to stay for the first half of testimonies, but I think saying a “smattering of teachers” were in attendendance is not accurate. In the sign in sheet I signed in on, the vast majority of affiliations checked off were those of teachers. Every single entry had checked the “con” box in reference to the bills.

    I was surprised that there were not more teachers testifying in the hour I was there, considering what I had seen on the sign in sheet. Judging by the cheers garnered by appeals to Idaho to live up to its constitutional duty to properly fund education, or to domwhat it had to to keep irreplacable, quality individuals from leaving for markedly more respect and higher salaries in Wyoming, my guess is that everyone in the overflow room I was in was dead set against having the November vote ignored.

  • Travis Manning

    Kevin,

    I was in an overflow room with about 50 other teachers. “A smattering of teachers” is a bit understated. I would ask you to FOIA request the rolls for the hearings and adjust your estimation so it is more accurate. This is the cool thing about online journalism.

    I’ll tell you what was unfortunate. Teachers couldn’t get off work until 3:30 or 4. By the time teachers got to the Capitol to sign up to speak, dozens of school board members and administrators, here for their annual Day on the Hill, locked up the 3-minute speaking spots.

    Leadership obviously didn’t want to hear from public school educators themselves…..

    There were 3 Minidoka school board members who spoke, along with their superintendent, while dozens of educators waited their turn. Perhaps they could have limited the Minidoka representation a smidge?

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    Had Senators Goedde and DeMourdant truly wanted to hear from as many people as possible on as many topics as possible, they would have cut short testimony that was substantially similar to testimony previously given, as they said they would while setting forth the ground rules before testimony began. That enforcement of the rules would have reduced to three minutes the time taken by charter schools requesting more money, time enough for one speaker to make the case. But I’m unsurprised that neither of them took that step, because I believe that both of them have big plans in store for charter schools. We’re likely to continue to see charter schools handled with kid gloves and special consideration, even when they’re asking for more money from people who cry “economic crisis” at the drop of a hat.

  • Laura Batcheller

    I am an educator that arrived at 3:30, was the first person on my list to sign up to testify and was not given the opportunity. I was very disappointed because I was there to speak as an educator, but more specifically, an early childhood special educator and more importantly, a parent of a child with a disability. There were only 3-4 teachers that spoke (all secondary educators) and a couple of parents…who also spoke about Charter schools. Yes, there was definitely a couple of themes; 1. providing support to rural districts in order to maintain buildings and attract educators and 2. Providing more funding to Charter schools, in order for parents to have a choice of education for their children. While I agree that parents and students deserve a choice ( and my husband and I have chosen to enroll our child in a charter school because of the smaller class sizes and advanced a academic expectations), we didn’t need to hear it from dozens of people. It was not a diverse representation of the individuals that made the time to come and testify, which is very disappointing for individuals that felt it was necessary for the committee to hear more testimony around multiple educational concerns.

  • niji masu

    I made this suggestion on another thread that I can’t seem to find now- and replied a reply from Ms. Swindell that she would make it happen if electronic documents were accessable-

    Many email testimonies were sent to the commitee, and individuals testifying at the listening sessions were asked to leave the their testimonies as record- My suggestion is that a link be placed here to ALL testimonies recieved (email and in person) to provide further transparency to the legislatures proceedings. it wouls be nice to see what kind of stements/how many pro and con testimonies the commitee is seeing as they make their decisions.

    I’d also like to see a tally of pro vs. con as the attendees had checked in the sign in sheets at the listening sessions.

    I’m assuming these are all matters of public record, so it should be no big deal to publish them here; it’s hard to think that the information has not been digitized.

    • Kevin S. Wilson

      Written testimony sent to hedu@house.idaho.gov (House Education Committee) or to sedu@senate.idaho.gov (Senate Education Committee) is probably treated the same was any other written testimony–that is, it is submitted to the committee secretary. In the House that is Jean Vance, 332-1148; in the Senate, Elaine Leedy, 332-1321. When public hearing were held last year on the Luna Laws, copies of written testimony were put online, presumably by the committee secretaries or someone acting on their behalf. Contact them to see when the latest written testimony will be made available.

  • sharon fisher

    These ‘open hearings’ are fine in theory but we’ve seen a lot of abuse of the process to stack the deck in favor of one side or another — and even when the testimony is 9-1, legislators vote against them anyway.