K-12 interim committee live blog

UPDATED, 5:38 p.m., with details from Mackay School District.

4:07 p.m.: A few dispatches from the school labor negotiations front — as discussed during this afternoon’s K-12 legislative interim committee meeting:

Meridian. The state’s largest school district still has no master agreement in place for 2013-14.

The short history: The district issued teacher contracts on July 1, declaring an impasse. The district and the Meridian Education Association agreed to go back to the table to discuss non-financial issues.

Three months later, no agreement has been reached, and the two sides agreed to bring in a mediator. But the federal government shutdown has left the assigned mediator on furlough.

“Where we will go from here is anyone’s guess,” Meridian School Board member Anne Ritter told legislators.

Nampa. Another school district facing mediation, according to the Idaho Education Association.

On July 1, the district issued contracts that imposed 14 furlough days, but agreed to discuss non-economic issues.

Mackay. During the 2013 session, this rural district figured prominently in the debate over a bill allowing school boards to reduce teacher salaries or contract days.

On Wednesday, the district figured prominently in the discussion of this new law — and whether it should remain on the books.

IEA officials pointed out that the district’s fund balance has increased dramatically throughout the recession — even as Superintendent Karen Pyron told lawmakers her district needed the flexibility to reduce teacher salaries to weather a financial crisis.

According to the annual financial reports on Mackay’s website, the district had a $430,513 fund balance on June 30, 2008. For June 30, 2012, the most recent report available, the balance was $985,874. District revenues for 2011-12 totaled $2,260,149.

Sens. John Goedde and Branden Durst both expressed concerns about Mackay’s fund balance figures, with Durst suggesting lawmakers were convinced to pass a bill based on false pretenses.

Pyron confirmed the fund balance increase, but said the money isn’t all free to use for any purpose. Some of the money comes from grants and federal programs — and is earmarked for specific purposes.

The Mackay district and teachers reached an agreement on salaries and benefits in July, Pyron said late Wednesday afternoon. The two parties are still going over the wording of the master agreement.

Plummer-Worley. Another school district still trying to reach a 2013-14 contract. The district’s finances have been in flux. Voters in May rejected a $1.1 million supplemental levy — but approved an identical levy on Aug. 27.

Idaho Education News’ Clark Corbin has have more coverage from the discussion over the labor laws.

12:13 p.m.: An interesting exchange during a presentation on student assessments — and the new version of assessments, hinged on the Common Core standards.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, passed along a complaint from one superintendent in her area, who said the new assessments are too rigorous.

Luci Willits, K-12 interim committee
Luci Willits walks legislators through the new Common Core-based student assessments, which ill be field tested next spring.

The response from Luci Willits, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s chief of staff: We’ve heard this before.

The point of the new assessments — and the new Idaho Core Standards in mathematics and English language arts — is to increase rigor. The state had similar problems when it established the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, the assessments that will be replaced by Common Core-based exams from the multistate Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Students struggled at first with the ISAT; when it was established in 2007, proficiency rates were in the 50 percent range, she said. Now, English proficiency rates are roughly 90 percent, and math proficiency rates exceed 80 percent. Luna cited these same figures Tuesday, in presenting his 2014-15 budget proposal to the Meridian Chamber of Commerce — and said they underscore the need for more rigorous standards that help prepare students for college and careers.

Willits echoed her boss’ message Wednesday. “That is what’s required for … the global economy.”

The new tests will be field-tested this spring.

11:38 a.m.: A couple of other blog posts from this morning, both from the Idaho Statesman:

  • Bill Roberts has a writeup on Dave Teater’s morning presentation on school facility needs. Teater suggested a maintenance schedule for Idaho school buildings — which would leave the state and districts sharing a cost that could come to about $60 million a year. Teater has a closeup view of one of Idaho’s more pressing building problems; he is the state’s consultant on a $3.6 million project to repair aging roofs at a Salmon middle school and elementary school. The state is picking up the roof repair costs, since Salmon voters have rejected nine bond issues over the past eight years.
  • A slow news day elsewhere in the blogosphere? Dan Popkey blogged this morning on a Twitter back-and-forth between interim committee member Sen. Branden Durst and me. Here, without further comment, is a link to Popkey’s post.

11:05 a.m.: A few quick points from Matt McCarter of the State Department of Education, talking about the work of a task force that has been examining school security issues in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings:

  • The task force does not recommend arming teachers; several school districts are considering the idea. But the task force was also “adamant” about leaving school boards the option. State law now allows school boards to arm teachers or school staff.
  • The state has conducted “threat assessments” at 28 schools statewide — selecting a mix of large and small schools. The state hopes to conduct 75 assessments by Jan. 14, which would cover about one-tenth of the state’s schools.
  • State Superintendent Tom Luna’s 2014-15 budget proposal earmarks $2.4 million for school security issues. This translates to a base of $1,500 per district, with the rest of the money prorated based on average daily attendance.

10:18 a.m.: The state’s homeland security chief gave legislators a rundown on a school safety drill in Burley in August.

But Col. Brad Richy, director of the Bureau of Homeland Security stressed, repeatedly, that local leadership is key to keeping schools safe.

It was a message echoed by Roger Brown, Gov. Butch Otter’s aide on education issues. “What we really need to hear is where the needs are at the local level.”

Next up today: a presentation on the state’s school security task force, from Matt McCarter of the State Department of Education.

9:39 a.m.: Here are a couple of Durst tweets after arriving:

@KevinRichert Sorry, to disappoint you, Kevin. I guess your @TomLuna /@jkaf_foundation agenda will actually have to be held accountable.”

“At the K-12 Interim Cmte meeting. Really don’t see the purpose. 1st meeting wasn’t terribly valuable, we’ll see if #2 is any better.”

9:28 a.m.: Durst arrived for the meeting.

9:23 a.m.: One of the 10 lawmakers on the interim committee is a no-show this morning: Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise. Durst has come under some scrutiny in recent weeks; he is living part-time in the Seattle area, where his wife is working as a teacher, and the rest of his family has been living.

Durst has said he is planning to serve in the Senate in 2014 — but has said his plans hinge on his out-of-state job search.

Durst did attend the interim committee’s first meeting on Sept. 12.

9:09 a.m.: The K-12 legislative interim committee meeting is under way — and I’ll be live blogging all day. Here are links to today’s agenda, a link to the audio stream and our preview story.

Kevin Richert

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 "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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