The transfer of IT employees from the State Department of Education to the State Board of Education went “smoothly,” according to the State Board, though state superintendent Sherri Ybarra warned the move would disrupt the system.
The Legislature voted to move the employees and the funding to the State Board earlier this year, saying it wanted a change in management over IT and data management. Legislators said Ybarra should stand aside as 18 employees and $2.7 million in funding was transferred on July 1, the first day of the state’s new budget year.
Ybarra fought the decision, filing a lawsuit and taking it to the Idaho Supreme Court, where she lost. In court, Ybarra issued dire warnings, saying the move would prevent her from doing her job and could be difficult on the employees and disrupt the system.
Fast forward two months. State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman said the transfer went smoothly, with only a minor mix-up and some ongoing logistical issues that are being worked through.
“Operationally, it went very smoothly,” Freeman said. “There was really only one minor mix-up with the employees’ insurance premiums that got double-deducted. But that was resolved very quickly.”
A key part of Ybarra’s argument was that the transfer would be disruptive and difficult because the technology system is the nerve center connected to everything the SDE does.
Ybarra and Special Deputy Attorney General David Leroy made that argument in an April 27 court filing asking for an expedited court hearing. Ybarra also made a similar warning about being prevented from doing her job in a April 24 news release.
“(Ybarra) urges that she is prevented, in a modern world, from discharging her constitutional functions by the summary loss of the technology group ‘nerve center’ which is central to the delivery of her core functions to Idaho’s schools and is also intertwined with every other service and duty which she discharges by all her employees throughout the Department of Education,” Ybarra’s April 27 motion stated.
Last week, Idaho Education News sent that statement to the SDE and asked if Ybarra has been prevented from performing her constitutional duties as an elected official now that the transfer took place.
This is the SDE’s complete response:
“With the IT transfer, Superintendent Ybarra is now dependent on the IT staff of the Board of Education, which is under the supervision of the Executive Director of the Board of Education, who is not an elected constitutional officer,” the SDE wrote in a written statement. “While she still has access to the data, as the Supreme Court made clear in its ruling, the superintendent can no longer prioritize the IT support needed to carry out her duties, including development of new applications or support/enhancements to existing applications that support districts and students.”
The data system was originally implemented in 2010-11. It is where data for all public school students and staff are housed. It is important because policymakers and staff use the data to make decisions, send out funding for schools and ensure compliance with federal reporting requirements.
School administrators should not notice any differences, Freeman said. The transfer does not change how schools submit and upload their data to the state.
The public might notice one change. The State Board is now in charge of the data system and fulfilling public records requests for that data.
SDE officials say the transfer is leading to inefficiencies and delays. The domains for the data system are also still connected to SDE usernames and email addresses.
The SDE also says it can no longer prioritize IT or data projects because it no longer has the developers it would need.
“As the department is no longer the steward of the data and data systems, we have additional steps to coordinate with SBOE staff on who fulfills the request, which requires additional staff time to manage and track,” the SDE said in a statement last week.
The State Board also confirmed that some of the logistical issues are taking time to work through.
With the transfer complete, Ybarra oversees an SDE that now includes 124 full time positions and a general fund budget of $12 million, which reflects the transfer and budgets reductions, the SDE said.
Ybarra retains her status as an elected official and her seat as a member of the State Board of Education.
The IT employees affected by the transfer are still housed under the same roof, in the basement of the Len B. Jordan Office Building. They have the same payroll and benefits, with an exception of the way comp time and vacation time is calculated.
Chris Campbell, who was the chief technology officer for the SDE, received the same title and position at the State Board.
“It was a whirlwind week there, getting all of those things accomplished (with the transfer in July),” Campbell said. “Our staff is in the same offices and the same space operating the same equipment.”