Writings and observations

Carlson: Teacher messaging/apology

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As the school year draws to a close Idaho’s teachers face a challenge: do they spend their summer recreating and holding down a summer job somewhere as many have to do; or, do they get actively involved in the campaign to repeal the Otter/Luna reform that further eviscerates Idaho’s already weakened commitment to public education?

Their future as well as the economic growth of the state depends on their response. Bottom line is people, especially those with children in public schools, trust teachers to know what’s best when it comes to learning.

Voters know teachers are more credible on educational matters than are
administrators or politicians like Governor C.L. “Butch Otter” or State Superintendent Tom Luna when it comes to knowing and convincingly talking about “students come first.”

It should be a no brainer that teachers would man the ramparts and lead the charge for the three ballot repeals but it is not that simple. Teachers in some districts are faced with a classic short term gain vs. longer term gain if they sacrifice. What voters do not realize is the insidious genius in the financial gamesmanship that was orchestrated during the last session of the Legislature.

To over-simplify, some school districts are withholding the $3000 pay increase (a combination of the new merit pay if it is not repealed plus replacing a previously withheld pay boost) that teachers on average will receive IF the repeals are defeated. If the repeals are passed then the new pay will not be distributed, especially the “merit pay” portion. It is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The net effect is some teachers are incentivized to at least stay neutral. Whoever thought this up is a malevolent genius (my candidate is Luna’s right hand, Jason Hancock).

So, not only do all teachers have to get actively involved in campaigning as those most in tune with what is truly best for students, some have to do so while sacrificing a short term pay boost for their longer term goals of reasserting that they know best and they are repelling this assault on their collective bargaining rights.

Additionally, teachers have to advocate “preemptively” for more financial support for their endeavors. Not only is Idaho lagging badly in per pupil support for education, the system continues to operate in large part ignoring a judicial mandate to improve significantly the physical structures where education is conducted by underpaid teachers.

Those interested in the facts should carefully review former Budget officer Mike Ferguson’s outstanding report which also documented the precipitous decline in support for public education as a percentage of personal income.

In these economically stressed times teachers cannot think they can simply ask for more from the general fund without their critics saying this would require a tax increase. It behooves them to identify new sources of revenue other than new taxes. Fortunately, there are several excellent “targets of opportunity”:

1) Sell the state-owned leases or truly up to fair market value the properties on Payette and Priest Lakes.
2) Charge the State Tax Commission to get on with a program systematically reducing the numerous sales tax exemptions granted over the years as was recommended by a bi-partisan interim committee several years back that had as one of its members Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg).
3) Enforce the annual 5% of net gaming proceeds due the State Treasury from ALL gaming tribes, especially the Sho-Bans (levy for back taxes owed?) who have ignored the initiative mandating the 5% giveback on the grounds that their compact trumps the initiative. It does not and some legislator ought to ask the Attorney General to opine.

Those three steps could bring millions in new revenue to the state to be reallocated to strengthening support for public education and teachers. More importantly it not only would comply with the state constitutional mandate it would be an investment in Idaho’s future all should be willing to make.
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An apology: I owe Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter an apology. Sometimes, to make a point one engages in too much hyperbole and crosses a line, as I did in my column seconding Governor Cecil Andrus’ warning about possible changes to the 1995 Nuclear Waste Agreement negotiated by Governor Batt.

While I do not trust the Department of Energy at all, Governor Otter reiterated his unequivocal commitment to standing by the agreement. Butch Otter is a man of his word. It was simply wrong for me to indicate he would betray this state he loves as much as anyone. My bad, my wrong and my shame. I disagree with much of what Butch advocates but I do apologize for impugning his integrity and his honesty. We’re both Mass-going, bead-carrying Roman Catholics. I was correctly admonished by our mutual good friend, Father Tim Ritchey, who often talks also about forgiveness.

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