Watchdog group sues Boise district over union payments

(UPDATED, 2:44 p.m., with response from Boise School District.)

A watchdog group is taking the Boise School District to court for paying a share of an employee’s salary while heading the local teachers’ union.

In the complaint, filed Monday in District Court in Ada County, the Idaho Freedom Foundation says the district is paying at least $35,932 this year to the president of the Boise Education Association.

Wayne Hoffman
The Boise School District is subsidizing union activities, “at a time when we keep hearing that every dollar matters,” Idaho Freedom Foundation executive director Wayne Hoffman said Thursday.

“We believe this is an egregious misuse of taxpayer money,” said Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the foundation.

The Boise district did not comment directly on the lawsuit Thursday. But in a statement, the district said it has “benefited from a longstanding collaborative relationship with the Boise Education Association.”

The crux of the lawsuit centers on a section of the Idaho Constitution, which forbids school districts and other public agencies from aiding “any individual, association or corporation.”

Hoffman dismissed the suggestion that the lawsuit interferes with the union’s right to organize or assemble.

“They can organize or unionize all they want,” he said Thursday.

The Boise district’s policy is not unprecedented or unique. The West Ada and Nampa school districts paid union representatives in the past, Hoffman said, but discontinued the practice. Police and fire departments have given employees leave for conducting union business, but to Hoffman’s knowledge, the Boise district is the only public entity paying a union representative’s salary.

District response

Here’s a statement issued Thursday afternoon by the Boise School District.

“Boise School District administration and board of trustees do not comment about pending litigation.

“However, it’s important for people to remember that for the last 20 years Boise School District 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. It is due to this positive ongoing working relationship that Boise School District is highly regarded in our state and nation as a high performing comprehensive public school system.”