Conservative group targets Boise labor deal

(UPDATED, 11 a.m., with statement from Boise school Superintendent Don Coberly.)

A conservative group may take the Boise School District to court over provisions in its master contract with teachers.

Among the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s claims: The contract grants Boise Education Association members paid leave to attend union events, and requires the district to reimburse the BEA when the union president takes a paid leave of absence from teaching.

The freedom foundation believes these provisions violate the “gift clause” in the state Constitution, which prohibits public entities from assuming “any debt, contract or liability of any individual, association or corporation.”

The foundation filed a tort claim Wednesday, a precursor to filing a lawsuit.

“These provisions of the contract make payments to the association and its members for their benefit rather than the benefit of the public,” said Geoff Talmon, director of the foundation’s Center for Defense of Liberty. “We believe this to be illegal, unauthorized and unconstitutional under the gift clause.”

The district has 90 days to formally respond to the tort claim. In a statement Thursday, Boise school Superintendent Don Coberly said the arrangement was above board.

“There was no gift,” he said. “Rather, there was a negotiated term of a contract, which is plainly allowed by Idaho law.”

The freedom foundation brought its complaint on behalf of Jim Auld, a Boise landlord, former legislator and longtime anti-property tax activist.

Here is Coberly’s statement, in full:

“It’s important for people to remember that for the last 20 years Boise schools has benefited from a longstanding collaborative relationship with the Boise Education Association. This partnership continues to foster a culture of respect and teamwork in the district where our professional educators are valued for their work in ensuring our community’s students are provided every opportunity to succeed in college, career and citizenship. 

“With regard to this tort claim, we are confident that the district is 100 percent compliant with Idaho law on this issue. The tort claim states we have violated the ‘gift clause.’ There was no gift. Rather, there was a negotiated term of a contract, which is plainly allowed by Idaho law.  

“The tort claim takes issue with an element of a negotiated contract as if it was simply given with nothing received in return. That is not the case.”