Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Modest University Tuition Increases Granted by Idaho Board of Ed

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 1:59 PM

Trustees of the Idaho State Board of Education met in Moscow Wednesday, and the top bit of business was consideration of what students (or parents) will be forking over in tuition in the coming years.

Ultimately, trustees approved some of the lowest tuition increases in years. 

Boise State University was granted a 3.5 increase in undergraduate resident tuition and fees. The University of Idaho and Eastern Idaho Technical College were also granted 3.5 percent increases.

Idaho State University was given the OK for a 3.3 percent bump and Lewis-Clark College tuition will increase 1.7 percent.

For the better part of two decades, Idaho's public universities and colleges have been granted a series of tuition increases, often more than 5 percent and, on occasion, into the double-digits, saddling more students and families with mounting debt. But prior to this week's meeting, Board of Ed trustees cautioned Idaho public universities and colleges not to request increases of more than 3.5 percent. 
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Petition Supports Ousted Professor While NNU President Is Hit With Vote of 'No Confidence'

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 12:54 PM

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The Board of Trustees of Northwest Nazarene University has been presented with a petition including the names of 123 faculty members from faith-based universities and colleges across North America in support of Thomas Oord, who was recently laid off by NNU.

Oord, a tenured professor at NNU, was part of a March layoff due to budget cuts, according to university officials, but supporters say Oord may have been targeted due to his beliefs, which included the acknowledgement of the theory of evolution.

NNU President David Alexander, in an open letter to students, conceded that communicating with Oord about the layoff via email "was not respectful."

"While our actions were policy-driven, we did not demonstrate the compassion and care reflective of our values," wrote Alexander. "We can and should have done better."

Meanwhile, NNU Faculty officers have announced that following a three hour-plus meeting, more than three-fourths of the group cast a vote of no confidence in NNU President Alexander.

This morning's Idaho Press-Tribune reports that the petition from faculty members from other universities in the U.S. and Canada has been received by NNU officials but they would not comment further.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Star-News: McCall-Donnelly Hires New Superintendent But Mystery Remains On What Happened to Old One

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Officials in the McCall-Donnelly School District have answered one big question: Who will be their new school superintendent? But they still haven't answered another—whatever happened to the old superintendent?

This week's McCall Star-News reports that a twelve-year veteran of the school district, Jim Foudy, who has served as the joint principal of the Barbara Morgan and Donnelly elementary schools, was picked by the McCall-Donnelly Board of Trustees to take the top post for the school district. Foudy was one of seven candidates for the position.

But the mystery still remains on whatever happened to Glen Szymoniak, who resigned as school superintendent in December 2014 without explanation.

The Star-News had lambasted the publicly-elected trustees for refusing to talk about Szymoniak's outster, writing, "It is obvious the process has been hijacked by attorneys, who have no regard for the public interest unless their clients directly benefit."

All that trustee Frank Eld would say after Szymoniak's disappearance in December was, "We have been instructed to talk to no one."
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Friday, April 10, 2015

Press-Tribune: Controversy Grows Over Ouster of NNU Professor

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 9:23 AM

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A conversation on the campus of Northwest Nazarene University is less about graduation lately and more about what happened to faculty member Thomas Oord.

This morning's Idaho Press-Tribune reports that university officials refuse to confirm that Oord was let go, but did say that six layoffs were part of recent budget cuts. Meanwhile, a Facebook page—"Support Tom Oord"—has already picked up 1,300 followers who have a laundry list of questions following the dismissal of the theologian and systematics professor. Supporters say that Oord has been regularly challenged by NNU officials to "respond to questions about this theology in order to stay in good standing with the church," faced a possible heresy trial in the summer of 2014, and was fired in spite of being a tenured professor.

“He cared so deeply for us as students,” Phil Michaels, associate pastor of the Durand (Mich.) Church of the Nazarene told the Press-Tribune. “It was like he said ‘I will teach you some information to form us and prepare us for our lives.’ He definitely holds some of what are controversial views. He doesn’t push his views, though."

Meanwhile, supporters said they've started a GoFundMe account to raise awareness of their plight and plan on wearing T-shirts with a quote attributed to Oord: "I plan to live a life of love."

And just this morning, a letter from Randy Craker, the Chair of the NNU Board of Trustees, was addressed to university employees:

As Chair of the Board of Trustees, I pledge to you that the board will give careful attention to the input received. Your voice has been heard. There are valuable lessons for all of us to learn. But my purpose for writing today is to clarify where I believe we are, and to urge us forward.
We are in a place where decisions have been made, policy has been followed, and now we must find ways to live into the new reality. Those steps must be taken by all. I commit to work with our president and the board to ensure our future. I invite the campus community to work redemptively with us.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

U.S. Dept. of Ed Report: Greater Need for Idaho Kids to Access Preschool

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 1:08 PM

Among the multiple issues left untouched by the 2015 session of the Idaho Legislature was pre-K learning for thousands of Gem State children.

Democrats were hoping to float a measure where lawmakers would consider funding for preschool programs, but the Republican majority had little to no appetite to address the issue. In response, the City of Boise has proposed its own Pre-K pilot program working with the Boise Independent School District, where Pre-K would be offered for eligible children in the city's Vista neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education released a new report Tuesday that points to the greater need for Idaho's children to access high quality preschool. The report, "A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America," show what most Idahoans already know—that none of its 24,427 four year olds are enrolled in a state preschool. Why? They don't exist. The same report shows that 8 percent of the children are enrolled in a federal Head Start program and 4 percent are enrolled in a special education preschool service.

Nationally, the report indicates that 28 percent of U.S. 4 year olds are enrolled in a state preschool, in addition to 10 percent in a federal Head Start program and 3 percent in a special education preschool service.

High-quality preschool provides benefits to society of $8.60 for every $1 spent, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors' December 2014 report, "The Economics of Early Childhood Investments," about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up. 

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McDonald's, Starbucks Expand Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 9:15 AM

McDonald's and Starbucks announced today that they're ready to reimburse four years of tuition for an online undergraduate degree through Arizona State University.

The Associated Press reports that Starbucks employees who average at least 20 hours a week, and McDonald's workers who have worked for the fast food chain for at least a year and average at least 20 hours per week, are eligible.

Starbucks said about 2,000 workers enrolled in its program since June 2014 when it began reimbursing its employees for two years of online tuition with Arizona State. The offer is available to workers at company-owned stores, which represent about 60 percent of its 12,100 locations. McDonald's estimates that 4 percent of its eligible employees took advantage of the program when it was previously available to managers at company-owned stores. Now, McDonald's is making the benefit available to workers and managers at all of its U.S. stores, including franchisee-owned locations.
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Monday, March 23, 2015

Oversight Report: Idaho Schoolnet 'Sunk Costs of $61 Million,' Future Uncertain

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 9:57 AM

It's officially called Idaho's Instructional Management System, but it's more commonly known as Schoolnet, a suite of online tools initially designed to give Idaho teachers current data on academic achievement.

A new report from the Idaho Legislature's Office of Performance Evaluations says the project "has sunk costs of about $61 million, and the Department of Education and the Legislature are left with few options to consider when deciding the future of the program."

OPE Director Rakesh Mohan wrote to Idaho lawmakers this morning that they "should heed additional lessons from the project" and "we should learn from our past mistakes."

The Department of Education had pursued funding for its IT initiatives, but today's OPE report says the department's plan for Schoolnet "was overly ambitious and lacked needed details."

Analysts said the Department of Education led policymakers and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation to believe Schoolnet was useful to districts, but none of that was backed up by meaningful evidence, according to the report. Ultimately the project cost $61 million. 

OPE concluded that "careful contract risk management can prevent performance problems such as contracting with a vendor unable to deliver the expected product."

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Idaho Teacher 'Career Bill' (Version Two) Passes House Education Committee

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 2:24 PM

The House Education Committee hearing over a "career ladder" bill for teachers on the morning of March 20 couldn't have been more different from the hearing that took place for a similar bill March 10. Back then, more than 100 people—mostly educators—turned out to testify against the bill.

After almost six hours of harsh public testimony, committee chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, decided to hold the bill without a motion. 

A reincarnated version of House Bill 222, now known as House Bill 296, brought a very different reaction from the crowd. A handful of education stakeholders including the executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the executive director of the Idaho Rural School Association, the superintendent of the Boise School District, the Idaho School Board Association and the Idaho Education Association testified in support of the bill in Friday's meeting, praising the collaboration that took place to create it.

The most stark change of tune came from Idaho Education Association, which originally created a laundry list of problems with HB 222. In this morning's meeting, however, Executive Director Robin Nettinga thanked the committee for making revisions to the old bill. 

"This bill is a textbook illustration of consensus," she told the committee. "Thank you for listening to the teachers, they feel respected and heard."

Boise Weekly talked with Nettinga about several of the changes made from HB 222 to create HB 296. She said after hearing so much negative public testimony for the first bill, DeMordaunt reached out to several organizations like the IEA to talk about how to fix it. 

"In every case, he was willing to work with us," she said.

The result addressed several primary concerns educators raised in the last public hearing. One involved including teachers in conversations about raising teacher pay. For example, when a district decides what factors it will take into account when giving a teacher a higher wage, the district won't rely only on an ISAT. Teachers will be able to talk about how they want to see their students progress, and be evaluated off of their results. Bonuses will be awarded to teachers in leadership positions, like those taking on dual credits, mentorship roles and hard-to-fill positions. 

The new legislation also bumps teachers' salaries higher next year than HB 222. House Bill 296 stipulates that all teachers get a pay raise of 3 percent or higher starting in the fall of 2015. The original bill called for a raise only of 1.4 percent in the first year.

Nettinga also said another victory over the old bill came in the form of teachers no longer being held accountable for things outside of their control. This was a major point of contention in HB 222. During the public testimony on March 10, one woman who teaches Title I elementary school classes in Moscow said working with children who need special attention would put her at a salary disadvantage because her students are less likely to meet proficiency standards.

"For many of my own students, their influence outside of school is not positive," Susan Mahoney told the committee. "Their parents are divorced, in jail, verbally or physically abusive, abusing alcohol and drugs, living in poverty. They don't know where the next meal is coming from. These students can't focus on their schoolwork the way they need to when there are so many bad influences outside of school. All they can count on is their free lunch at school."

Mahoney pointed out that these children often don't have books at home. They have no enriching educational experiences until the age of 5.

"To expect them to show that growth of an expected grade level and meet those targets is unrealistic," she said. "That's a system failure, not a failure of me as a teacher."

Nettinga said this new bill corrects that problem.

"Teachers won't be held accountable by things they have no control over," she told BW. "Districts can only count students that have been enrolled and show up 80 percent of the time, because it's hard to teach a kid when they don't come to school."

Despite these major changes to the career ladder bill, Nettinga said it's not perfect. The goal is to recruit and retain teachers, but Nettinga worries it won't do enough.

"Obviously, we do have concerns for the sheer numbers," she said. "We have districts around us starting at $36,000 or $37,000 a year right now. In five years, we'll be at $37,000 for a starting salary. Maybe over the next five years, we can look at the numbers and see if we can do something more."

Both stakeholders and legislators alike praised the bill, and their ability to put it together. Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, who originally planned to vote down HB 222, told the committee he "whole-heartedly supports" HB 296. 

"The exercise we just went through is what I hoped for when I was voted into the legislature," Kloc said. "This is what I thought government would be like."

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, also said working to craft this new bill was "the most positive experience I've had in government yet."

House Bill 296 passed the committee with no opposition, and will now head to the House floor.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Idaho Department of Administration Director Resigns Amid IEN Lawsuit

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 6:46 PM

Idaho Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna is set to resign at the end of the 2015 legislative session, at which time Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter will appoint an interim director.

The resignation comes at a time when the state of Idaho—and specifically the Department of Administration—is embroiled in a controversy surrounding the Idaho Education Network, the service that until recently provided broadband Internet access to Idaho schools. 

In November 2014, 4th District Court Judge Patrick Owen ruled that the state's contracting process for securing broadband access was void after Syringa Network successfully sued the state, alleging that Luna's predecessor, then-Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney, cut the company out of the process in 2008, instead awarding the $60 million contract to Education Networks of America and Qwest. 

"Gwartney appears to have been the architect of the state's effort to bend the contracting rules to Qwest's advantage," wrote Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones in a 2013 ruling. "[H]e essentially admitted knowing, even before the contract award was made on January 20, 2009, that Qwest would be 'making the connections and providing the broadband' for the Idaho Education Network."

When Owen voided the state's contracts with ENA and Qwest, however, he also voided payments to ENA, which filed a tort claim against the state on March 6, alleging $6 million in damages. Among those named as being involved in or having knowledge of ENA's claims are Otter, Luna, Gwartney and various past and present Department of Administration employees. 

"ENA finds itself in the anomalous position of having undeniably provided valuable services to the IEN, but being denied payment because of the unilateral actions of the State," wrote ENA legal counsel in the claim.

Read the full claim here: 
Meanwhile, IEN has gone offline, and Idaho lawmakers have scrambled to provide individual school districts with emergency funds to connect to the Internet. 

Luna was appointed to the position as head of the Department of Administration in 2011, following the 2010 retirement of Gwartney, whom she served as chief of staff. She served as interim director for about a year.

As director of the department, Luna oversees a variety of state government activities including compliance in rule making, managing insurance and human resources. The department also provides financial services like budget preparation, fiscal analysis and contract management for the state.

"I admire Teresa's tenacity and commitment to doing the right thing," Otter stated in a news release Tuesday afternoon.
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Monday, March 16, 2015

Idaho Ed News: Dems Have Alternative Ed Funding Plan

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 12:04 PM

While the Idaho Legislature's budget writing committee continues to draw water from a stone, in an attempt to pass a bare-bones K-12 education spending plan, two Boise Democratic lawmakers say they're already preparing a counterplan to provide more funding for schools than the budget that they fear will surface.

Idaho Ed News reports that Reps. John Gannon and Phyllis King, both minortiy members of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, say their plan is $29.5 million on top of the 7.4 percent increase already proposed by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter.

"Our proposal moves kids to the front of the line," King told Idaho Ed News.

JFAC has already pushed its budget-setting session for K-12 public schools back by a full week and hasn't yet rescheduled a date to vote on a spending plan. Much of that delay has been pushed by the House Education Committee, which is still wrangling with a proposed career ladder that met with significant pushback during last week's public testimony from teachers throughout Idaho.

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