The Idaho State Department of Education just released the following transcript from the Reporter Roundtable that Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna hosted for members of the media in Boise on November 12.
Q: It’s been six days now. What is your assessment of the next step? What reforms might you look at with the Legislature?
I think it’s important that education reform doesn’t stop. We just had a 22-month discussion about education in Idaho at a level of detail that we’ve never had before, and I think that that, if anything, has been very productive. People around the water cooler and the dinner table have had conversations about education reform, so I think the last thing that anyone wants to see is an end to education reform in Idaho. I think it’s critical that we work together and identify parts of the reform legislation that have support from all legislative stakeholders—ones that are easy to move forward in this next legislative session. What those are I don’t know just yet. I think you heard during the campaign that there were parts of these laws that were agreeable to both sides, but there were also parts that were disagreeable obviously to the “Vote No” campaign and to the electorate. Again, I think that we have to take advantage of the conversation we have had over the last two years in Idaho. We need to continue that conversation, and we need to make sure that conversation leads to meaningful reform in our schools.
Q: The “Vote No” campaign has said that it is willing to reach out and open a dialogue with you and other members of your administration. Has that happened?
Yes, I’ve had a number of meetings with stakeholders. Unfortunately, Penni Cyr and Robin Nettinga, the leaders of the IEA, have been gone. They get back tonight; I leave tomorrow morning. So we’re going to have a phone conversation. But there have been other conversations already with stakeholders in person and over the phone with the IEA. We will sit down and meet with them. We did before, and we will continue to do that going forward. It’s important that we do that in a collaborative way, and we will.
Q: Superintendent, do you have any regrets about this entire process and how you’ve handled it?
Well, those are two questions. Let me address the second part of your question. There are some things I wish I had done differently. Particularly, I regret that I used the phrase “union thuggery.” Just some background: there was a 48-hour period of time where some incidences happened. My vehicle was vandalized. I was interrupted during a live TV interview by someone who was unhappy, and if someone hadn’t gotten in the middle of that, I don’t know how that would have played out. And then a gentleman who identified himself as a teacher showed up at my mom’s house, who was a recent widow, to give her a piece of his mind. I think I referred to that as “union thuggery” or “union tactics.” I wish I wouldn’t have used that phrase because obviously it was used over and over and over. I can’t imagine a son not being concerned about his mom in that kind of a circumstance, but that’s one time when I wish I had been maybe a little bit more measured in how I responded to that incident.
I’ll give you some background, so I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to play Monday-morning quarterback, but hindsight is 20/20. In hindsight, we can all think of things that we would have done differently.
When we ran these pieces of legislation, I never anticipated that we would end up in a referendum type of situation. When you look at these bills, each is very complex. So, it’s easy to identify one or two things in a very complex piece of legislation and focus on that and run a campaign based on one or two things that you are not happy with in a particular piece of legislation.
Q: Are you saying that you wish the bills themselves had been simpler.
Well, again, you’re asking me to play Monday-morning quarterback. I try to avoid that because I am looking forward.
Q: When you say that opponents focused on one or two things, are you suggesting that because of the campaign that was run, voters didn’t necessarily understand…?
No, the same people who voted down these laws elected me to this position twice. So, I can’t criticize them for turning down these laws and then congratulate them for making the right choice when they elected me. I have full confidence in Idahoans educating themselves and then making a decision based on the information that they’ve gathered. So, I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is that if we knew this was going to a referendum, then maybe rather than three bills there should have been a couple dozen bills, and we should have treated each of these things separately so they could have been weighed on their own merits. And maybe that’s the process going forward. I don’t know because those conversations are still happening.
With a referendum, it’s easy to target just one or two parts of each law. I think the way it was described to me was that each of these three laws was like a separate movie in a trilogy. Each movie had six different scenes, and each scene had four different parts. So it was just very complex.
Q: When the HP contract was announced, several of us asked what would happen to the contract. At the time, your comment was, “Well, the train has already left the station.” Did this really take you by surprise—the voter rejection of the propositions?
No, not on Proposition 3. I am just being brutally honest with you. We knew going into Election Day that Proposition 3 was going to be very difficult to carry. And then, of course, all three of them were handily beaten. But, when it came to Proposition 3, I assume that our struggle was that we were able to implement Propositions 1 and 2 but not Proposition 3. Districts were able to negotiate for two years under the collective bargaining components of Proposition 1. We had pay-for-performance that had operated in our schools for a year under Proposition 2, and eight out of ten teachers will be receiving a bonus this year as a result of that. Proposition 3 was something where implementation really was to begin next year. I really believe that if our schools had received the laptops, and that people saw the benefit of that, it would have changed people’s impression of Proposition 3. I think that the fact that we were not able to implement it made it a heavier lift.
To the question of whether we should have waited to make the HP announcement, I don’t agree with that. I know there were some people who even thought, once we had an agreement, that we should wait. But, I think that voters deserved to have all of that information as soon as we knew it so they could vote with all the information we had having been made available in a very transparent way. I can’t imagine knowing that we had that contract agreement in place, letting people vote, and then days afterwards saying, “Oh, by the way, we reached an agreement with HP two weeks before the election and didn’t bother to tell you.” We wanted to be very transparent and let voters know what the contract was and who the contract was with and the details of it.
Q: There was a perception that the timing of the announcement was meant to leverage the outcome of the vote in favor of the propositions.
Well, how’d that work out (laughs)? We could have sat on that information, but that’s not the right thing to do when you are dealing with taxpayer money. So, we put the information out there and tried to answer questions that came up. I understand that some people thought this was some way to gain leverage, but again, that wasn’t our intent, and it clearly wouldn’t have worked had it been our intent.
Q: I think we all know that the Students Come First laws, however affectionately or otherwise, were labeled the “Luna Laws.” With all due respect, you don’t introduce legislation into the legislature. You don’t vote on anything in the legislature. You don’t sign anything into law. I think more realistically they were as much the “Otter Laws” as they were anything. With that said, looking forward, have you communicated with the Governor? Where is Governor Otter in terms of looking forward in education?
Well, “Otter Laws” doesn’t flow as well (laughs). I’ve had a number of conversations with the Governor, and we both agree that we need to take advantage of this opportunity that has presented itself—this conversation that has been had about education reform. I never ran into one person who said they were voting “no” because they didn’t think we should reform our schools. They had specific issues with certain parts of the law. I ran into a lot of people who were splitting their votes. I ran into a lot of people who said, “I like this about Proposition 1, but I struggle with this part.” So, I didn’t hear from anyone who said, “Let’s go back to the system we had before.” We’ll get everybody around the table, have conversations to identify the things that we all agree on that were in the different propositions, move forward together with legislation that would restore those parts of the bill, and then work together to find common ground on areas where we do not agree.
Q: Do you anticipate the Governor being involved in that process?
Yes, I do. I think the Governor will continue to play a lead role. If you look at other states that have gone through this process, it’s similar to what we are going through in Idaho. There are steps forward. There are bumps in the road. There are times when you have to have a process check and a reality check. But every one of those states has had a governor, whether it’s Tim Pawlenty or Jeb Bush, who continued to provide the leadership and really the expectation that we have to do these things and then used that pulpit to encourage the citizens and the legislature to respond.
Q: Indiana just unelected their Superintendent last week. Are there lessons to be learned from that for Idaho?
Well, I am good friends with Tony Bennett. I am good friends with a number of education leaders across the state. What happened in Idaho really happened all across the country, where education reform was defeated on many different fronts, or, at least, stalled on many different fronts. And what happened in Indiana is just another example. It happened in South Dakota. I don’t believe it means “stop.” I think what it means is that there are forces in play that you have to recognize and you have to engage with in order to get the water to the end of the row.
Q: Do you think there is something to be learned from the outcome of the election in Washington and I think it was Georgia, where you had a very red, Republican-leaning state that went overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in Georgia and a very blue-leaning state that went overwhelmingly for Barrack Obama in Washington both vote to approve the expansion of charter schools. There seems to be a general appreciation and approval for charter school expansion, but reforming conventional schools has been uncomfortable for people. Is there any lesson in that, as far as you’re concerned?
I think you’ll see that education reform across the country is not just limited to red states. It’s happening in red states and blue states. It’s happening in inner cities and rural areas. The opposition to reform is the same, but those who support reform are Democrats, Republicans, etc. I believe education reform is a bipartisan effort, and it will continue to be.
Q: Some folks have suggested that emotions were perhaps so raw on both sides that finding some agreement during the 2013 session might be a little bit premature, so this should go to some kind of interim committee of the legislature over the summer.
Well, I can name you any number of blue-ribbon committees and interim committees that have been tasked to deal with very, very important issues that require real leadership to deal with, and lacking leadership, then you appoint a blue-ribbon committee or an interim committee to kick the can down the road. I agree with you that this has been a very emotional time, but I would remind everybody that it has been very emotional for the adults. Our kids and our students have to have an education system that is moving forward to meet their needs. Our state has a goal that by the year 2020, 60% of our population will have some kind of postsecondary degree or certificate. Today that number is 34%. So, if we’re thinking about 2020, those students are 8th graders today. We are not going to hit that goal if we continue with a system that achieves only 34%. So we can’t wait. Our kids can’t wait for adults to figure this out. So we are going to have to set aside our emotions and our egos and, as adults, work together to do what is best for our children. Waiting is not what’s best for our children. We are not going to go to the legislature and propose legislation that is so controversial that it’s going to drive the same kind of emotion that we have seen the last couple of years, but there are things that we have all agreed are good parts of the Students Come First legislation, and there is no reason that we wouldn’t move forward to bring those back. For example, we currently have students in high school who are earning college credit paid for by the state. That program is gone November 21st. I don’t know of anybody who thinks that that is a bad program. Let’s go forward and reinstitute that program. Part of Students Come First is we provide districts with $5 million to hire more math and science teachers. I don’t think that anybody thinks that that is a bad idea. Let’s move forward and make sure that funding is secure. I think there is an opportunity to move forward with some form of pay-for-performance, and I’m concerned that if we don’t, that the $38 million that is part of our ongoing funding is at risk of being lost. And that number is supposed to go to $61 million next year. I think the best way to make sure that that money stays in education and is used to compensate teachers is to get adults to the table and see if there is some way we can go forward with a form of pay-for-performance that will keep that funding secure.
Q: Have you identified someone in the legislature who has agreed to spearhead that effort, either a legislative leader or someone else?
The whole legislature is in the process of determining who their next leaders will be. That is going to determine who the committee chairs are going to be. The Senate has a different way of doing it than the House. We will know the first part of December who the players are—who the committee chairs are—but I can tell you from the conversations that I’ve had in person and over the phone with a number of legislators that education reform is still a high priority for them.
Q: Do you believe that some of the things you are listing off here—the loss of college credit funding for students at taxpayer expense, pay-for-performance pay for teachers, I’m aware of at least one situation where a school here in the Treasure Valley region was about ready to set up a new computer lab of sorts and that process has now been thrown into neutral and maybe reverse—do you believe voters in Idaho really understood some of the unintended consequences that were at stake.
Like I said, the laws were complex. I don’t think anyone has held more meetings than I have over the last year and these last five months. When we would present and explain what the laws were, and when we would have time to get into detail, we found that most people didn’t know that Proposition 3 had the opportunity for students to get college credit. Most people thought it was all about laptops. People attributed Propositions 1 and 2 to some form of technology. That definitely became the focal point. But, it’s very complex and there were many things in the individual laws that people weren’t aware of because maybe those parts weren’t something that was written about a lot and weren’t something that people saw on a television commercial or heard in a radio ad. When people find out that those things were part of the laws, I think they too will agree that those were worthwhile and that we should restore those.
Q: There are some people who perceive education reform as nothing more than an effort to try and limit the power of the teachers’ union or somehow organized labor. How would you respond to that?
Again, this is hindsight. You’re asking me to play Monday-morning quarterback. All I can do is give you the history, and then you can decide what to do with it. When we were putting together education reform, what we referred to as Students Come First, there were some who thought that what you found in Proposition 1 was enough. I never believed that. Just dealing with tenure, dealing with collective bargaining, dealing with open negotiations, eliminating seniority. Those are an important part of education reform, but just Proposition 1 in and of itself is not going to get the job done. It’s not the silver bullet. You have reform the way you compensate teachers. You also have to reform the way that we deliver education, create opportunities through the proper use of technology, give all students equal opportunity for college credit, etc. So, I think if you had just Proposition 1, then it could easily have been characterized as you described it—just anti-union and trying to diminish the control of unions. But if you look at the whole package—where we are putting in historic amounts of money for professional development, historic investments in 21st Century classroom tools, pay-for-performance that finally gives us a way to financially recognize teachers—the whole package is important if you want education reform. One piece by itself is not going to accomplish it.
Q: You said that you will not be bringing forth legislation this session that will drive the kind of emotions that we saw over the Students Come First package. Is there anything in this package that you’re going to stay away from?
No, because I think that you have accused me of doing this in the past. We’ll hear from the stakeholders. We’ll come together and identify what we all agree on, and then we’ll move forward. So it would be premature for me to assume that I know what is agreeable to all of the different stakeholders.
Q: If the union doesn’t agree, for instance, to your proposal for pay-for-performance, will you say, “Ok, this is an issue best left for another day,” or would you bring it in over the objection of the unions?
So I’m trying to avoid talking about the past, and I’m not going to deal with what-ifs. I am convinced that all of the stakeholders want what is best for children, and I believe we all agree that that means that we need to reform our education system in Idaho. So, I’m convinced that if we all have the same goals and the same intention, we’ll come to an agreement.
Pay-for-performance is something that we all agreed on in the past. We spent 18 months dealing with the pay-for-performance plan that was in Proposition 2, and everybody agreed to it, and everybody signed off on it. If we go forward with a pay-for-performance plan, it will be the third iteration of what we have tried to do with pay-for-performance. So, of anything to come out of Students Come First, the pay-for-performance is the one that received the most collaboration, the most effort, and really that we came to a consensus on. Even to the point where we all signed a letter agreeing to the plan, and that plan was then made part of Students Come First. We spent a year and a half developing the pay-for-performance plan that we put into Student Come First, so if there are some disagreements by some of the stakeholders, then I’ve got to believe they are minor and can easily be addressed because we spent the good part of a year and a half coming up with this plan.
Q: Given that, were you surprised when, just before the election, as the word went out to school districts as to who would and wouldn’t get bonuses under the plan, the concern was expressed in many areas of the state that the schools whose teachers didn’t get bonuses were perhaps the ones who were dealing with more disadvantaged kids. Was there a flaw in this plan?
Well, it wasn’t a perfect plan. The only way it’s going to be perfected is if we can implement it, learn from it, adjust it, and keep going forward. If we never start, we’re never going to be able to identify the areas that need to change and be improved. One of the frustrations that I have with the education establishment is that they want to see a study where this has worked, but they won’t let you implement it so you can study it. So, it’s just this circular effort where nothing ever gets done. We had pay-for-performance in place for a year and 8 out of 10 teachers will receive a bonus, many of them receiving a bonus of close to $4,000. The average is over $2000. That is a tremendous increase in compensation for teachers. Let’s learn from that first year and make adjustments where necessary so that it’s more fair and more accurate. The last thing we want to do is take that $39 million and just remove it from compensation and say, “We tried it one year, and it wasn’t perfect, so we’re just going to go back to the system we had before, where we negotiate for a 2% or 3% increase on the base every year.” I heard far more positive responses to the pay-for-performances than I ever did hear negative. And when 8 out of 10 teachers are receiving the bonus, we know many of those teachers are teaching in schools where children are struggling. Probably the biggest pushback I heard was because some said, their words, “You have a bad teacher in a good school, and that teacher is getting a bonus, and yet you could have a good teacher teaching over here with a bunch of bad teachers who isn’t going to get a bonus.” In other words, they wanted it to go down to the individual level. When we negotiated this plan, one of the things that we heard loud and clear from the teachers association was that they would not approve any pay-for-performance plan that went down to the individual teacher level, and they made a very good argument: you would have teachers in a school who would refuse to cooperate and collaborate with other teachers in their school because they viewed each other as competitors. We agreed with them, so we decided that performance pay would only go down to the school level. So, it was surprising to me that the same people who argued that we could not go down to the individual teacher level then started arguing that it was a flawed program because it didn’t go down to the individual teacher level. Again, that’s campaigning. Those are issues that were raised. I think they can easily be addressed, and we can figure out a way to move forward so that this $38 million that is already part of the base funding of education can continue to be used for teacher compensation.
Q: Do you anticipate having a package by the start of the legislative session, or will it emerge sometime within the session?
I don’t know. What I do know is that we’re going to lead. I think people are elected to lead, and sometimes that means that you get into areas that maybe aren’t all that popular, but it’s very easy to lead when things are going well. Everybody wants to lead a parade when everybody likes the music. The fact is, if you’re going to bring about education reform that is good for students, somebody has to lead. That’s what I’m attempting to do. That’s what this legislation was about. We’re going to continue. This is a bump in the road, but we’re going to continue to work toward bringing about the reform that our schools have to have.
Q: It sounds like you anticipate something much more piecemeal than you’ve proposed previously?
I don’t think that it will be as comprehensive. I think that that was probably one of the issues that we had with the referendum. It was just very comprehensive, and when this became a referendum and we started talking to those people who know referendums—like people in California who live through this every two years—they made it very clear to us that we had an uphill battle. When people don’t understand something or aren’t sure what something is about they tend to vote “no.” I’m one of them. If I get to something on the ballot that I don’t understand, I either don’t vote or I vote “no” because I figure I want to learn something more about it. So I don’t think it will be as comprehensive as Students Come First or Students Come First would have carried the day, and it didn’t.
Q: You said that voters understood what they were voting on, but you keep saying things like, “The voters didn’t understand.”
No. So there’s two separate things. Students Come First has many, many components in it, and it’s not reasonable for me to expect that voters would know every piece that was in the law. But when they do become aware of the fact that students can earn college credit, I think that’s something that they all support that would be easy to go forward to the legislature with. But, I’m not claiming that the electorate was deceived or uneducated or that they didn’t know what they are doing because, like I said, the same people elected me and re-elected me. So if they were wise in the use of their vote when they elected me, I’m assuming they used that same wisdom when they passed judgment on these laws.
Q: What has the past week been like for you? We didn’t hear from you immediately after the election.
Well, I didn’t want to meet with you based on emotion and exhaustion. So, I just took a couple days and spent time with my grandkids and my family. And just mainly because of exhaustion. I think it was Monday night when we were still having meetings with people, and I looked over at my chief of staff Luci Willits and mouthed the words to her, “I am exhausted.” I was just mentally and physically done. So I just had to take some time and sleep in till 7:00—that’s sleeping in for me—and get to the gym and burn off some stress and go to church. I didn’t want to meet with emotions raw and when I was exhausted because it probably wouldn’t have been productive for either of us.
Q: I’ve heard that the fact that the propositions went the way that they did means that there may be lay-offs here at the Department of Education. Is that true?
Yeah, we are going to have to reduce some positions and that’s unfortunate. But there were many funding streams built into the bills that have gone away. The impact to the Department is unfortunate, but it’s minimal compared to what’s happening to our districts. Again, there are tens of millions of dollars that districts are expecting this school year that we do not have the legal authority to distribute. Take, for example, the $13 million for technology. Half of that money is distributed already, and the other half is supposed to go out in February. Districts have spent this money, these technology dollars. We don’t have the authority to give them that money in February. Districts have hired more math and science teachers. We don’t have the authority to reimburse them for that. Students are taking college credit courses right now. We don’t have the authority to pay for those. I can go on and on about the financial consequences that this has for our districts, but this is very, very disruptive. We’re going to have to work with the legislature quickly to hopefully bring some stability back to funding for schools. This really amounts to a mid-year cut in the school budget. You’ll remember, even during the most difficult time of the current recession, the state avoided making any cuts to schools districts in the middle of the school year because they know how disruptive that is. So, we tapped into rainy day accounts and what-have-you to avoid mid-year budget cuts for schools. That’s what this amounts to—a mid-year budget cut—and we have to find a way to minimize the impact it’s going to have. We tried to start pushing out some of that information to districts in October, but we were immediately accused of threatening, accused that we were trying to use this as some leverage to get people to vote “yes.” So we had to pull back, and we had to quit pushing this information out to districts. But we wanted to let them know what to plan for in case these were overturned because there is quite an impact on what’s going to happen with local school funding.
Q: What positions will you be eliminating here at the Department and at what point?
We are still working on that, but there is a handful of them. I would say anywhere from three to eight positions will be reduced, but don’t hold me to that because we are still working on it.
Q: Do you have a point-by-point list of the impacts that this will have at the district level?
Sure. Like I said, we started identifying those in early October, but we had to pull back because we were being accused of trying to intimidate and use scare tactics for doing what I thought was our job. And that’s notifying districts, too, that they need to start a planning stage; if Proposition 3 goes down, you might not get the rest of your technology dollars, you’re not going to get the money for your math and science teachers, the kids taking dual-credit…any number of those things are going to have a financial impact on districts.
Q: Are any of those not reparable by going to the legislature?
Yeah, they are, but you have 105 people over there. A third of them are brand new. I think what you’ve seen some districts already do is put a lot of things on hold because they’re not going to put all of their eggs in the basket that the legislature will just go and fix all of this. Some will claim that when the voters said “no” they said “no.” I will try to convince them that they said “no” for other reasons. But you will have some who say, “’No’ means ‘no,’ and we’ll use this money differently.”
Q: You had teachers during the whole election process saying, “We weren’t involved.” What do you say to that? Were they not involved? How do we correct that going forward?
Well, I’ll address going forward. We’ve had the ‘tis and ‘taint over whether there was involvement or enough involvement, but, going forward, I think you’ll find that all our meetings with all stakeholders will be very transparent and open meetings so the press can see who was actually there and not there, what comments were made, who was involved and who wasn’t, so that then we no longer have this disagreement as to whether there was involvement or enough involvement.
Q: I know you don’t really want to look back, but if you had a do-over, would you have foreshadowed your plans for education reform when you ran for office or during the election?
Well, when I was out promoting Students Come First, people would ask me why I never brought it up, and I would ask them if they attended all the debates that I had when I was running for re-election or looked at the candidate surveys that I filled out for all of the different newspapers. For all of the 15 years that I have been in education, what I have run on has been very clear. When you look at what was in Propositions 1 and 2, we ran a piece of legislation called ISTARS which included elements dealing with tenure and seniority and pay-for-performance. So I understand the argument. These are the same arguments that were made across the country in other states where reform was overturned. What we will do going forward is make sure that it is even more clear and more obvious. I think that anybody who thinks that Tom Luna hasn’t run on an education reform platform needs to be asked how they could possibly believe that. So, I’ll leave it at that.
Q: You’ve talked about those public meetings. Do you think that by having all sides in a public meeting, ground floor up, going forward that both sides will be more willing to compromise on things that they maybe hold sacred or that they weren’t willing to give up before?
Yes, and we are going to stream these live on the web so parents and everyone can participate. We have learned through the past two years as all the negotiations at the local level have happened in open, public meetings that what you have described is true. The conversations are more open and more civil and more productive, and what happens in the meeting is very transparent and neither side can claim something that isn’t accurate. People will be able to judge for themselves as to whether one group or another group had equal access and equal opportunity to participate. So we’ll make it a very transparent process.
Q: Do you think that this outcome has affected your effectiveness as a leader, or will the test of that be seen in the future?
I think we’ll know more going forward, but I will tell you that I am committed, as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to make sure that all 280,000 students have equal access and opportunity to succeed in the 21st Century. If there has to be a loser, if this has to be a win-lose, then let it be me. Not the students, not public education, not the teachers. If the press and the public have to blame somebody and identify a loser in this process, then it’s me. But public education, our students, our teachers, our parents, our taxpayers cannot take the brunt of what happened last Tuesday. If people have to find somebody to blame, let them blame me.
Q: You have been very committed to these over the last two years and, as you have indicated, the last 15 years. After last Tuesday’s results, did it ever cross your mind to step down?
No, I’m not a quitter. I mean, if I was a quitter, there have been many times in my life when I would have folded up the tent and gone home. I have had many setbacks, but never defeats. So, I am not a quitter. I willingly went into this process. I left the private sector to get into education. I have never run for any other public office that wasn’t involved in education, and I’m still committed to making this work. In the end, this is about the future of the children. Not my future, not your future, not really about the adults' future in Idaho. It’s about the future of the children, and that’s what I’ll continue to focus on. And I’m confident that adults can figure this out, and we’ll do what’s best for our children. I think Winston Churchill said that Americans always do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else. I am convinced we will do the right thing. If that means I have to do things differently, then so be it. But we will do the right things.
Q: You talked a little bit about some of the funding that was set aside for Proposition 3 but now won’t go into effect because the laws were voted down. What about the high-speed internet that has been installed into schools? What happens with that? Do schools take on that cost?
No. That is the Idaho Education Network, which is separate from Students Come First. It has been in place and has been funded separately by the legislature since long before these laws were passed. You’re going to see the Idaho Education Network soon begin to expand into Phase II, which is connecting middle schools. The only consequence related to the Idaho Education Network is that we won’t be able to expand its usage as fast because school districts aren’t going to have the resources to use the IEN as much. As far as every school being connected, and all of that, that continues to go forward.
The other thing about Proposition 3 is that that has really become organic. I really don’t know what kind of legislation you would need today. Two years ago when we passed proposition 3, it started this train moving down the path of integrating technology into everything that happens in schools. And schools took the technology dollars we provided and started doing more and more with those dollars. They started repurposing some of their own dollars. I don’t know what will happen with the funding that was attached to Proposition 3. I think we have to have that discussion, but the transition to a 21st Century classroom is going to happen with or without Proposition 3. It’s just how fast it happens, and if it happens in an equal fashion across the state. That remains to be seen, but technology and more and more of it is here to stay in education, and that’s a good thing. There are many good things that have come from these laws even though they were overturned—the way we’re looking at technology, the way we’re looking at teacher evaluations, the way we’re looking at parental input, the way we’re looking at advanced opportunities for students. Those are all good things that came from this law, and those don’t go away.
Q: What happens to the FY2014 budget that you have already submitted?
It is going to have to be revised considerably. Not only do you have about $50 million in this year’s budget that we have no place to spend, but the budget I presented to the legislature was an additional $60 million dollars for the second phase of pay-for-performance, for the first-third of laptops going to high schools, more money for IT support at the local level, and buying back a year of the salary grid for teachers that was frozen. All of those things have to be revisited because of the vote last Thursday.
Q: There is a lot to do. Do you have the next meeting set in stone and scheduled now to sit down with all the stakeholders and talk about this?
Well, we have Thanksgiving next week and people’s schedules are making it difficult, but we have the beginnings of those meetings in process right now. Nothing set in stone right now.
Q: Tell us about the $38 million.
We’re still waiting on data from four schools, so we’ll have that school data to you as soon as it is complete. There are two components to pay-for-performance—a state side and a local plan. After we notified districts as to those schools that qualified on the state side, then they take their local plan that had multiple measures and they implement this and then we feed it back to them and tell them, “Ok, here are the schools, and here is how much they qualify for.” We have four districts who are still trying to figure out their local plan right now.
By law, we distribute this money to districts on November 15th as we have always done. Then the districts have until December 15th to distribute it to individual teachers. Last week, the Attorney General provided us with their official legal opinion, which states that even though the law was overturned and will be removed from the books on November 21st, school districts are still obligated to give that performance pay money to the teachers who have earned it. That’s always been very important to me as we have gone through this process. Teachers worked under this agreement for a year, and those who have earned this money are the ones who should receive it. The AG’s opinion reinforces my opinion. We’re transmitting information to the Controller’s office today so they can distribute this money on November 15th. Then the districts have until December 15th to distribute this money to the teachers who have earned it. There was some question as to what would happen to that money if it was given to the school district and it was in their account on November 21st and had not yet been distributed.
Q: So this is good news for you?
It’s very good news. I’ve been trying to do pay-for-performance since I was elected in ’06, and I hope that this is a demonstration that it wasn’t a perfect plan but it was a good plan. It got a 5.8% increase in compensation for teachers. If there are things we can do to make it better and more palatable, let’s move forward. Let’s use this $38 million in a way that can continue increase compensation for teachers.
Q: When you said $50 million was set aside for this year, that didn’t include this $38 million?
No. There are other moneys that are tied up in “use-it-or-lose-it” and any number of things that are still out there. And I think we have that list, and we haven’t given it to you before. I would hope you would use this information for the reason it’s out there. We tried to distribute it before the election, and we were accused of veiled threats. We’re going to distribute it now, and it’s not because we’re trying to say, “See, told you so, you should have voted ‘yes.’” This is just the information that districts have to have to manage through this process. It’s accurate. It’s not sensationalized. These are just the facts that districts have to know so they can begin to figure out how to manage through this.
Q: You have $61 million built into the budget for pay-for-performance for 2014, and that’s for the expansion of the plan?
Yes, it’s for classified staff and administrators, and it’s also when we add in the hard-to-fill and leadership portions of pay-for-performance.
Q: So, if you don’t get a pay-for-performance package in the 2013 legislature in some fashion that meets your goals, would you consider building that $61 million into the base of the old system of paying teachers, or is that not acceptable?
Ultimately, that is going to be a decision of the legislature. What I can tell you from my six years of experience is that the most you are going to get out of the legislature under the salary grid is a healthy debate as to whether we should increase it 2% or 3%. If you look at last year, the legislature gave all state employees a 2% merit-based increase. They gave teachers a 5.8% increase because it was pay-for-performance. If we didn’t have that plan in place, teachers would have gotten a 2% increase in merit-based pay or in that salary grid. I am confident that that is what will happen in the future. Whatever state employees get is what you’ll see teachers get. At least at the state level we have the ability to use ours to develop a pay-for-performance plan. That’s what we have done with our increases here. We have a pay-for-performance plan here at the State Department of Education. But I don’t think you get the legislature to do that. I think that would be a bit disingenuous to me because when I convinced the legislature to give us the $38.8 million, and when they agreed to a plan that would give us $61 million next year, that was all based on pay-for-performance, not increases in base pay. So that would be disingenuous for me to now go and do a bait-and-switch on them and say the best use of that money would be to go and put that on the base.