Addressing the Senate Education Committee, with a packed room of 200 colleagues at his back, Jim Stoor had a challenge for lawmakers.
A 14-year Soda Springs school trustee and president of the Idaho School Boards Association, Stoor hasn’t liked everything he has heard this legislative session. He has heard lawmakers describe school boards as bullies who push for ballot measures and deliberately try to hide the cost to taxpayers. None of the comments have come from Senate Education members, but Stoor used his podium as a change to appeal for civil discourse.
“We are all elected officials just like you,” Stoor told senators.
For the ISBA, an influential education lobbying group representing some 900 school trustees and charter school officials, the “Day on the Hill” lobbying trip is an annual event. It’s a chance for volunteer school trustees to share their concerns with legislators.
Stoor rattled off a list of several bills that worry him, and the ISBA’s membership. The House has already passed one tax cut bill, and others are in the works — and these moves could intensify the competition for remaining tax dollars. Stoor restated ISBA’s opposition to a voucher system; the ISBA also opposes a bill to create state scholarships that could be used for private schools. Stoor also cited a bill, which passed a House committee Friday, that would make school districts wait a year to pass a bond issue or levy rejected by voters.
Several lawmakers defended their work, especially on the education budget proposals approved Monday morning, The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee blueprint would increase K-12 spending by $100 million, with some money earmarked for teacher pay raises and some set aside for health insurance costs.
“I believe that the Legislature is listening,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the Senate Education chair who also sits on JFAC.
And several committee members seemed to hear Stoor’s appeal for civility. After a freewheeling discussion on funding, accountability and school safety, lawmakers described the job of the trustee as a labor of love.
“You people have put your energies and lives into your school systems,” said Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville.
Stoor and ISBA members are scheduled to address the House Education Committee Tuesday morning.
Charter bill on hold
House Education held until Thursday a bill designed to give charter schools more flexibility in hiring an administrator.
On Monday, committee members listened to testimony from two people, then put the issue on hold because they were due on the House floor.
Pushed by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, House Bill 566 would allow charters to hire professionals who don’t already hold an Idaho administrator’s certificate.
Brad Petersen — the co-founder of Future Public School, a charter school opening this fall in Garden City — said the bill gives charter schools hiring flexibility. Boards would be able to hire from a more diverse candidate pool, he said.
Idaho Association of School Administrators Executive Director Rob Winslow said his members “have significant concerns with this bill.” For one thing, he said, the state would have different policies for charter schools and traditional schools.
Remote testimony returns to House Ed
Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, said House Education will take remote testimony at 9 a.m. on Feb. 26.
The remote testimony program is designed to open the legislative and policymaking process to Idahoans who live outside the Treasure Valley. Residents can travel to one of six locations and testify live, via videoconferencing hookups, but they must sign up by Friday to participate on Monday.
VanOrden tried taking remote testimony earlier this session but no one signed up. On Monday, she urged her committee members to encourage their patrons to testify.
On Feb. 26, House Education will consider a bill to encourage schools to offer firearms safety courses.
Idaho Education News editor Jennifer Swindell contributed to this report.