Gov. Brad Little is appointing an old ally to fill a vacancy on the State Board of Education.
Bill Gilbert — a Boise businessman who co-chaired Little’s 2019 education task force — will succeed Boise business executive Andrew Scoggin on the State Board.
In the weeks and months to come, Little will have the chance to make two additional State Board appointments, further putting his imprint on a body that has far-reaching power. Idaho’s eight-member board wields a lot of influence in normal times — it’s one of only a handful of state boards that sets K-12 and higher education policy. And now, the State Board will have an important role as Idaho tries to reverse learning losses throughout the education system.
“The board is going to be very important coming out of the pandemic,” said Greg Wilson, Little’s education adviser.
A known quantity
The co-founder of Caprock, an investment advisory firm, Gilbert rose to statewide prominence in the summer of 2019. Months after taking office, Little asked Gilbert to co-chair his “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” K-12 task force.
“At that time, we could not have imagined what was to come for our students, parents, and educators mere months after the K-12 task force completed its work,” Gilbert said in a news release Wednesday.
The group’s recommendations — such as a focus on early literacy, full-day kindergarten and building out the “career ladder” teacher salary plan — continue to shape Little’s education policy priorities.
On Wednesday, Little touted Gilbert’s task force work — but also his connections to the University of Idaho Foundation and Idaho Business for Education.
“As a businessman and community leader, Bill brings a perspective that will benefit Idaho’s kids because he is keenly aware of what employers are seeking in a prepared and fully-equipped work force,” Little said. “His insights will help shape Idaho’s education system for the better.”
Gilbert also was a campaign donor to Little’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign, serving on Little’s transition team after the November election.
Gilbert will take over a board seat that came open just last week. Scoggin, an Albertsons executive, had served on the board since 2016. His term ended June 30.
Gilbert’s appointment fits Little’s M.O. for filling high-profile State Board vacancies. In 2019, Little filled two vacancies by tapping Our Kids, Idaho’s Future members: Shawn Keough of Sandpoint, a former 22-year state senator who is executive director of the Associated Logging Contractors; and Kurt Liebich, a Boise businessman.
Liebich now serves as State Board president.
The other board vacancies
Little is looking for two more State Board members to replace Debbie Critchfield and Emma Atchley.
Critchfield — a Cassia County School District spokeswoman, who lives in Oakley — will remain on the board through the search for a successor. Critchfield’s term runs through June 2023, but she plans to step down from the board to run for state superintendent. Working alongside Gilbert, Critchfield co-chaired Little’s 2019 education task force.
While Critchfield is closing out her time as a State Board appointee, Atchley has already stepped down. She left the board on June 30.
Atchley, of Ashton, had been the longest-serving member of the board, appointed in August 2009. She also was the only board member from Eastern Idaho. Governors are not required to appoint State Board members based on region, but traditionally, governors have considered geography when filling vacancies.
Little wants to preserve some geographic balance, Wilson said. “We’re actively looking for someone in the Magic Valley and Eastern Idaho right now.”
With Wednesday’s selection, four of Little’s seven State Board appointees live in Boise or Meridian: Gilbert, Liebich, Linda Clark and David Hill.
Geography is one consideration. Demographics are another factor, Wilson said. Little has considered a few candidates from the Latino community — the state’s largest ethnic minority, which has no representation on the State Board.
Finding the right candidates is difficult, for several reasons.
Little is looking for State Board members during a political firestorm — conservatives are accusing the education system of pushing classroom indoctrination, through disciplines such as critical race theory. But in a booming economy, Wilson said, business people might not have the time to commit to a volunteer board with wide-ranging responsibilities. Would-be applicants also are well aware of how often the board met during the pandemic, dealing with hot-button issues such as school reopening and protocols for athletic events.
“I wouldn’t just pin it down on the political environment,” Wilson said.
Governors fill the bulk of the State Board’s positions. The state superintendent automatically receives the eighth seat on the board. Gubernatorial appointees are subject to Senate confirmation.