Analysis: Unwrapping a Jordan sentence about NDAs and four-day schools

Paulette Jordan has had a lot to say about the news media lately.

Let’s unwrap one sentence, and how it pertains to education.

“Are employee non-disclosure statements as important to learn about as my plans to fund Idaho’s schools so that every child in every community is in the classroom five days a week?” the Democratic gubernatorial candidate said in a guest opinion.

Two topics. Let’s take them one at a time.

Topic No. 1: the NDAs

The reference to “employee non-disclosure statements” loops back to the recent shakeup in the Jordan campaign. When three staffers resigned abruptly on Sept. 14, former campaign manager Michael Rosenow declined comment to Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman, saying he had signed a non-disclosure agreement before joining the Jordan team.

When the topic came up at an Idaho Falls City Club forum last week, Jordan was dismissive. “Gosh, you all really lean on Cynthia Sewell,” Jordan said, according to the Post Register. “You know the media really lack integrity with the Statesman, it’s unfortunate. But given that, the lack of integrity has certainly misconstrued the reality of anything.”

(Here, I must step back in the interest of full disclosure. As I said on Twitter last week, I’ve worked alongside Sewell for years, dating back to my days at the Statesman. I count her as a friend — and I consider her one of the finest reporters in Idaho. As I tweeted, I found Jordan’s remarks just shy of playing the “fake news” card. I own those words, and since Jordan hasn’t offered any substantive criticism of Sewell’s in-depth coverage on the campaign, I stand behind those words.)

Should voters care about campaign staffers’ NDAs? That’s for voters to decide, of course.

Should voters care if, say, Jordan expected her State Board of Education members to sign an NDA? In this case, we’re talking not about a campaign staffer, but an appointee who will help chart the course of K-12 and higher education policy.

Nate Kelly, Jordan’s senior campaign adviser, says Jordan will not expect staff or Cabinet appointees to sign an NDA, Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported last week. But whether the Jordan camp likes it or not, the NDA flap raises a fair question: Will Jordan govern as she campaigns?

Topic No. 2: the four-day schools

In her guest opinion, Jordan doesn’t say how much money she believes it would take to fully fund schools.

But Jordan oversimplifies the four-day school issue.

The bottom line: The 40-plus school districts that use a four-day calendar aren’t saving very much money. It’s not like four-day schools can eliminate 20 percent of their teaching staff just because they close schools one day a week. The four-day schools still need the same number of teachers — and personnel is always a school’s largest expense.

Yes, four-day schools can save money on busing or utilities or other costs. The savings vary, but are often minimal. When we published an in-depth series on four-day schools in 2015, I reported that the Boundary County School District believes the four-day calendar trims 10 percent from its budget. In Eastern Idaho, Soda Springs and Grace administrators pegged the savings at less than 1 percent.

The body of national research is clear: A four-day calendar is not a big money saver.

There is plenty for candidates to debate when it comes to four-day schools — starting with the effect on student performance. Here, the research is very limited, and alarmingly so, since nearly a tenth of Idaho students attend a four-day school. When we described the four-day calendar as “an unproven experiment,” I don’t think we overstated the case.

In her guest opinion, Jordan admonished the media to focus on issues.

Government transparency certainly seems to qualify.

As does the health of rural schools.

 

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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