House overwhelmingly kills Ybarra’s rural schools proposal

The House dealt State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s legislative agenda a serious blow Wednesday, when it resoundingly killed off her rural school center bill.

At this point, it has become a time-honored, late-session tradition for legislators to kill off Ybarra’s rural bill. In each of the two previous years, the proposal passed the House but was basically ignored by the Senate.

Wednesday’s vote was different, and shows how Ybarra has gone backwards on what she has called a signature legislative initiative and a top priority.

A year ago, a similar rural schools bill squeaked through the House 37-33.

Two years ago, it passed 44-26.

Wednesday’s vote was a bloodbath.

House Bill 630, which would have created the rural schools support network, failed 20-48. The debate was so one-sided that sponsoring Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, wondered aloud moments before the vote whether he would be hazed with a legislative trophy known as “the crow.” Legislators decorate the unsightly bird statue and “award” it to fellow representatives who see their bills fail in the face of overwhelming opposition, often with 18 or fewer votes of support.

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Amador avoided the crow, but the rural bill’s goose was cooked.

Amador said the rural center would allow cash-strapped districts to join cooperative partnerships and pool resources to pay for personnel or programs from an a la carte menu of available services. Some examples could include sharing a hard-to-fill position, such as a grant writer or school psychologist.

“All it really does is provide an ability for school districts to work together and to collaborate,” Amador said.

But other House members had sharpened their knives and were waiting to ambush the bill, which would have launched a $300,000 pilot program in one region of the state.

  • “I still believe it adds unnecessary bureaucracy and administration into our education system,” said Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Wendy Horman, a key budget writer. “We already have statutes in place to allow school districts to do that if they want to do so.”
  • “I don’t think we need to have a top-heavy administration telling us what to do,” said Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley. “We need to keep it more local.”
  • “(This bill) sets up a mini State Department of Education up north, and we don’t need that,” said Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard. “We don’t need any more bureaucracy in our schools.”

The rural bill’s failure likely won’t surprise Ybarra and her lieutenants too much. Last month, the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee turned down Ybarra’s $300,000 funding request.

After the vote, Ybarra said she is still having a successful legislative session.

“We can’t win them alland it’s been a good session,” Ybarra said in a written statement. “We saw unanimous support out of the committee for a public schools budget with a nearly 6 percent increase, and all our rules were passed, including science standards and computer science standards. I will continue to champion the needs of all students, including those in our rural communities.”

How they voted

(A yes vote is a vote to create the rural schools center, a no vote is a vote against the rural schools center)

Republicans voting yes (10): Amador, Bedke, Blanksma, Boyle, Clow, Kerby, Malek, Mendive, Syme, Wagoner.

Democrats voting yes (10): Chew, Erpelding, Gannon (17), Gannon (5), King, Kloc, McCrostie, Rubel, Smith, Toone.

Republicans voting no (48): Anderson, Anderst, Armstrong, Barbieri, Bell, Burtenshaw, Chaney, Cheatham, Collins, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Dixon, Ehardt, Gestrin, Gibbs, Giddings, Hanks, Harris, Hartgen, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kauffman, Kingsley, Loertscher, Luker, McDonald, Miller, Monks, Moon, Moyle, Nate, Packer, Palmer, Perry, Raybould, Redman, Scott, Shepherd, Stevenson, Thompson, Troy, VanOrden, Vander Woude, Wood, Youngblood, Zito, Zollinger.

Democrats voting no (0).

Absent: Manwaring, Wintrow.

School board elections

The House Education Committee gave its blessing Wednesday to a bill to move school board elections from May to November in odd-numbered years.

Sen. Mary Souza

Pushed by Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, Senate Bill 1280 represents a compromise at least three years in the making. Seeking to increase voter turnout, Souza has tried to move school board elections. However, the Idaho School Boards Association has resisted efforts to align its elections with partisan legislative and presidential elections held in even years.

Last fall, the Caldwell School Board pushed a compromise resolution at the ISBA’s annual convention to move elections to November in odd-numbered years.

Souza honored the ISBA’s resolution in SB 1280, which would move school board elections onto the same ballot with nonpartisan city elections.

“The motivation for this now three-year effort to move the date is to increase voter turnout and, thereby, improve community connections with our schools,” Souza said.

Caldwell school board chairman Charles Stout offered his support.

“Yes, we agree we needed greater voter turnout,” said Stout, who was accompanied by Caldwell Superintendent Shalene French. “But on general elections, we felt trustees would get buried at the back of the ballot, and that wouldn’t gain anything. So the compromise was, ‘Why don’t we move it to November (in odd-numbered years) with mayoral elections?’”

Not everybody agrees Souza’s bill will improve turnout. Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst said moving the election date isn’t likely to increase turnout. Hurst warned the committee that moving school board elections might significantly harm turnout in other May elections for highway districts, sewer districts and auditorium districts.

“It’s candidates and issues that drive turnout, not when elections are held,” Hurst said, citing Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

Hurst offered an analogy to argue his case. When his daughters were growing up, his family finished their basement. The family hoped to increase water pressure in a basement bathroom for the girls, so they installed wider pipes. The wider pipes didn’t increase water pressure to the basement, but they did cut down on the water supply in the rest of the house, Hurst said.

Newly appointed Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, attempted to push back against Hurst’s warning about turnout, and asked why the Legislature shouldn’t just try it and see. Hurst responded that he has helped run and study elections for years and helped write Idaho’s consolidated election law, which sets out four election dates each year — in March, May, August and November.

Souza also appears to have cited inaccurate voter turnout data that she says was supplied by the Caldwell School District. Souza was correct that voter turnout in school board elections is historically low and can fall below 5 or 10 percent.

But, citing conversations with French and the Caldwell School District, Souza incorrectly said in 2015 that only 250 voters out of 5,000 registered voters voted in Caldwell’s school board elections. Souza didn’t do the math, but that would have yielded turnout of 5 percent.

According to official results from the Canyon County Clerk’s office, 214 of 2,915 registered voters in Zone Two voted in the May 2015 school board election, yielding turnout out of 7.3 percent. For Zone Three, 225 voted of a pool of 2,245 registered voters, yielding a turnout of 10 percent.

House Education voted to send SB 1280 to the House floor with a recommendation it passes. Only the committee’s three Democrats opposed the bill.

SB 1280 previously passed the Senate 22-11 on Feb. 28.

Career-technical education funding bill killed

In other action Wednesday, the House Education Committee killed a bill that was designed to give funding flexibility to career-technical education schools.

Pushed by the State Board of Education, Senate Bill 1295 would have eliminated a reference to support unit funding for CTE schools in Idaho law. Doing so would have given the Division of Career Technical Education flexibility to propose future changes for funding the state’s 17 CTE schools.

It appears that a series of concerns brought some unlikely allies together to kill the bill.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, complained about a section of the bill the requires a school administrator to hold a career-technical administrator’s certificate. Toone said that was wrong to require that, especially since the House Education Committee just passed a bill creating a new charter school administrator’s certificate that does not require charter school administrators to have any educational experience.

“Inconsistency is my issue here,” Toone said. “We have to treat people equitably.”

Additionally, Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, worried the bill was not doing enough to empathize dual credit offerings. He took issue with a section of the bill that strikes out a requirement that a CTE school offer “a majority of its class offerings as dual credit” courses.

Senate Bill 1295 sailed through the Senate 34-0 back on Feb. 23, but House Education killed it with a voice vote Wednesday. That means the proposal is dead for the year.

Killing the bill “doesn’t change anything in existing law, but it doesn’t allow us to look at other opportunities for funding, which we think are more appropriate,” Division of CTE Administrator Dwight Johnson told Idaho Education News after the bill died.

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