State Board approves University of Idaho president’s request for leave

Outgoing University of Idaho President Chuck Staben may not be leaving campus when his term as president ends later this year.

Chuck Staben

On Thursday, the State Board of Education approved Staben’s request for transitional academic leave during the fall of 2019 in order to prepare for a teaching assignment in January 2020 and beyond.

Almost a year ago, in May 2018, Staben and the State Board mutually agreed that the 2018-19 school year would be Staben’s last as president.

But Staben’s employment agreement states that he “shall be tenured at the institution at the rank of full professor, and entitled to a position in a department within a college at the institution where the president has competence and knowledge to teach.”

Furthermore, Staben’s agreement states the salary at such a tenured professor’s position “shall be not less than the highest paid full professor in that college.”

State Board officials estimate the contract for Staben’s position as a tenured professor in the biology department would be about $160,000 per year.

During a brief interview with Idaho Education News, Staben said he hasn’t taught since 2007 and hasn’t published a research paper since 2008. He said he would use his leave during the fall of 2019 to prepare for his teaching assignment and consider resuming or originating research as a faculty member.

Staben said “it’s a fairly common thing” among administrators who return to the teaching faculty to take leave to prepare for the assignment and get caught up on the latest advances in the field. What’s unusual, he pointed out, is for such a request to go before the State Board. Normally such requests are approved by the provost or university president. Since he still serves as president, Staben said he brought the request to the State Board to avoid a conflict of interest.

When asked about his academic future, Staben did not provide any specifics or commit to staying at University of Idaho. He said he is considering several different opportunities.

In 2017, Staben was a finalist for the presidency at University of New Mexico, though he ultimately did not get the position.

The State Board is currently working with an outside search firm to hire a new University of Idaho president to succeed Staben.

College of Eastern Idaho

In other news Thursday, the State Board voted unanimously to approve a request from Lemhi County Commissioners to join College of Eastern Idaho’s community college district.

The move now paves the way for Lemhi County residents to vote on the matter. If a simple majority of Lemhi County voters vote in favor of joining the community college district, Lemhi will be added to the district and College of Eastern Idaho would no longer charge higher out-of-district fees for Lemhi residents who attend the college.

College of Eastern Idaho’s board of trustees already approved the request. A date for the election has yet to be scheduled.

In 2017, the State Board approved a similar request from Bingham County to join the College of Eastern Idaho’s community college district, but that measure failed at the polls when a majority of Bingham voters voted against joining the community college district in November 2017.

Legislative update

The State Board voted to formally oppose Senate Bill 1058, which would create a new standalone certificate for charter school administrators.

Supporters of the bill said it is necessary to give charter school leaders the flexibility to hire administrators from outside the education fields to lead their schools.

However, State Board officials said the bill amounts to circumventing the established certification requirements for school administrators and could lead to situations where administrators with no educational experience whatsoever are required to evaluate teachers and help develop curriculum. Former Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a similar charter school certificate bill on the final day of the 2018 session.

In other action the State Board voted to support nine other legislative bills or initiatives. That list includes support for House Bill 153, Gov. Brad Little’s newly introduced bill to raise starting teacher pay to $40,000 over the next two years. The State Board also voted to support Little’s budget recommendations, a teacher pipeline proposal from Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and a rural educator loan assistance program proposal that Ybarra has drafted but has yet to formally introduce and Ybarra’s bill to expand Idaho’s mastery-based education program.

The State Board remained silent and did not weigh in on Ybarra’s budget request and Ybarra’s proposal to spent $28 million to increase salaries above and beyond the career ladder salary law.

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