New elective office holders as a normal matter want to bring in with them their new team, replacing some people - usually the top decision-makers and those who work most directly with the office-holder - at the start of a term.
That does not usually extend down to the people who actually turn the wheels, stoke the engines and do the work of the agency. That a new elected official and his immediate assistants have a learning curve is to be expected; extending that learning curve over much of an agency is trouble on the wing.
That is why the decision by Tom Luna, the incoming Idaho superintendent of public instruction, to fire broadly and deeply across the Department of Education was so striking. Changes in the superintendent's office and among the division heads were to be expected, but this went much further.
Some of the impacts were laid out concretely in a letter to the editor today in the Twin Falls Times News, by Sharon Lutkehus, who is a health education instructor at the Filer Middle School. She writes:
"Mr. Luna has eliminated nearly every experienced person in the Bureau of Educational Improvement, Title 1, Special Education, Certification-Professional Standards and Adult Services. In this first wave of firing were specialists in math, language arts, international and civics education, charter schools, testing, technology, health education, and safe and drug-free schools. Others are leaving because they foresee the destruction of all they believe in. This may not seem to be a problem to Mr. Luna because of his complete lack of educational experience. However, it directly and negatively affects schools and students.
During the past six years, I have been a member of the Idaho Comprehensive Health Education Cadre, which was formed by Barbara Eisenbarth, the HIV-AIDS-Health Education coordinator for the Idaho Department of Education. . . . By teacher request, additional workshops and conferences were scheduled for January and February of 2007. These workshops have now been canceled because the people who present at and organize them are gone (fired). Grants that are due in the next few weeks will have no one knowledgeable in the complexities and requirements of writing them. Federal monies could easily be lost due to lack of leadership."