Arming teachers. Supporting new academic standards. Training for trustees.
These are just some of the topics that will be discussed, debated and voted on this week as nearly 500 school board members and their superintendents gather in Coeur d’Alene for the Idaho School Boards Association annual convention.
Trustees spend most of three days in a variety of workshops covering topics from school safety to teacher evaluations to open meeting laws. They also will spend time in regional meetings and building relationships with their own board members.
But the most powerful portion of the event comes when trustees vote for resolutions that are taken to lawmakers.
This year’s business session is Friday morning and nine resolutions will be debated. A majority and weighted (based on district size) vote decides the resolutions that become part of the ISBA’s legislative agenda for two years.
Two resolutions will likely get the lion’s share of the debate — one dealing with guns in school and the other supporting Idaho Core Standards.
“Everything else should be pretty smooth,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the ISBA.
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The Garden Valley School District, a rural school system with fewer than 250 students, is seeking support for firearms training similar to what is provided to first responders and law enforcement officers, but designed specifically for people who work in schools. Idaho law allows school officials to possess and carry firearms on school property, with trustee approval. Garden Valley wants the state to support proper training.
“Everybody talks about school safety, we are trying to do something,” said Garden Valley Superintendent Randy Schrader.
The ISBA’s executive board and the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association oppose Garden Valley’s resolution, in part because of language in the resolution.
“The ISA as a matter of longstanding policy opposes the creation of new law enforcement agencies where they have not existed before. Instead, we encourage contracting with a sheriff’s office or police department for police services to enhance public safety,” said Vaughn Killeen, the executive director of the ISA, in a letter to state officials.
Schrader said his campus is so remote, it could take 40 to 60 minutes for police to arrive in an emergency.
“We need to defend ourselves with something other than pencils,” said Schrader. “The sooner we stop it, the less damage there would be.”
Two Garden Valley board members and Schrader will be in Coeur d’Alene to try and convince trustees to support a training plan.
Another resolution likely to see heated debate already has executive board support. Boise, Pocatello and Moscow school districts are recommending the ISBA support Idaho Core Standards. The resolution says, “The state needs to stay the course over the long term to assess the impact of the implementation of the ICS. The ICS are college- and career-ready standards that will contribute greatly to providing this preparation.”
Not all education leaders support the new standards. Madison Superintendent Geoffrey M. Thomas co-wrote a letter, published at Idaho Education News, that argues that the state should reject the standards or allow schools to opt out. Last month, evening meetings were held in Grangeville and Riggins to gather community input on the standards.
“We’ve been getting emails and we’ve heard from some board members up north who are not in favor of the ISBA’s support of the standards,” Echeverria said.
The ISBA’s annual convention begins Wednesday with a full day of workshops. Thursday features time for trustees to break into regional meetings. The business session — when trustees vote on resolutions — is Friday morning.
Aside from the Common Core resolution, here are six other ideas that the ISBA executive board supports:
- Operational funding. The Meridian and Idaho Falls districts are leading the push to restore schools’ so-called “discretionary funding” to pre-recession levels. Since 2009, operational budgets have been cut by $82.5 million; schools say the funding helps pay for benefits, utilities and transportation, among other items. Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force also supports restoring this funding.
- Mastery learning. This resolution recommends moving the basis of public schools’ funding formula away from “seat time,” and towards a formula based on enrollment. This shift would give districts “the flexibility to restructure and redesign education for the 21st century without seat time requirements.” The governor’s education task force recommends gauging student performance based on subject mastery — and the task force recommends a corresponding change in the school funding formula.
- A “knowledge- and skill-based” salary index. Supporters say this plan will align with Idaho’s move to “mastery-based instruction,” and help Idaho hold on to quality teachers. Supporters also say the idea has political value: “The Idaho Legislature will look more favorably on increasing teacher salaries if accountability and improvement measures are part of a new index.”
- Certified salaries. Some school districts are putting money from voter-passed levies into salaries for administrators and other certified staff. But this creates an imbalance among districts, which will persist unless the state puts more money into certified staff salaries.
- Voluntary School Board training. The ISBA already provides training for the state’s unpaid school trustees — and this resolution says districts should decide whether their trustees need schooling. “Access to professional development should be a matter of local control based on knowledge and experience, availability, and the budget. Further, decisions about professional development should not detract from a community’s ability to attract people to run for the local school board.”
- Local governance. This resolution says a new federal education law — a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — must also protect local school boards’ autonomy.
Aside from the firearms training, here is one other proposal the ISBA executive board opposes:
- A statewide software system for data collection. Some districts have complained that the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, the state’s longitudinal data system, is labor-intensive and unreliable. This resolution “would allow school districts and charter schools to opt into a state-provided software application.”