Writings and observations

ridenbaugh Northwest

From a report in the IdahoEdNews site.

It’s the big chunk of new money in 2013-14’s K-12 budget proposal.
It’s also an open-ended line item. No one knows exactly where the money might go — which is the whole idea.

Gov. Butch Otter and state schools superintendent Tom Luna want to earmark $33.9 million for the governor’s education task force. This money would give the 31-member group working capital to enact education reform – that is, if elected legislators agree to cede the money to a board made up predominately of unelected education and business leaders.

On Thursday, Luna made clear that the stakes are high.

In his presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Luna said his proposed 2013-14 budget is flat, save for the task force money. And that’s essentially true: While the Luna budget earmarks dollars for everything from classroom technology to added math and science teachers to increased starting pay for teachers, its 3 percent general fund increase totals $38 million — not much more than the $33.9 million in question.

In a news conference after his JFAC presentation, Luna was blunt about the budgeting prospects. If legislators take that task force money out of the K-12 budget, “It’s not coming back any time soon.”

That decision starts with JFAC. And one of the budget-writing committee’s co-chairs has mixed feelings about the proposal.
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, says she understands the logic of funding the task force efforts, but she doesn’t like seeing the $33.9 million parked in the K-12 budget. The money inflates the appearance of the budget — and, if Otter’s and Luna’s wishes are to be honored, it’s money legislators would leave untouched.
“It’s just sitting there, like a wart,” she said Thursday. “It’s troubling to me.”

Another potential trouble spot: What, if anything, will the task force agree to do with the money?

The task force has just barely begun its work. Its second meeting will be held today. In order to come up with reforms in time for the 2013 Legislature, the task force would have to coalesce behind ideas within a matter of weeks, not months.

Sen. Dean Cameron, a Rupert Republican and JFAC co-chairman, said he’d be “shocked” if the task force came up with anything substantive for the 2013 Legislature. “In fact, I would almost discourage them from doing so.”

Otter assembled the task force to take a second look at school reform, after voters rejected Luna’s Students Come First laws.

Luna sits on the task force, but on Thursday, he said he has no plan to go into a meeting with a specific plan for the money. Luna instead says his goal is simply to make sure these dollars wind up in education.

Could they end up elsewhere? Asked about this possibility Thursday, Luna dismissed the idea, since it means lawmakers would essentially vote to cut K-12 spending. “I just can’t go there.”

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Idaho Gov. Butch Otter converses with Ross Eggett, Allstate human resources manager, at the company’s Chubbuck customer call center where a major expansion was announced.


mendiola MARK


Allstate Insurance Company’s announcement Thursday, Jan. 17, that it would expand its Pocatello/Chubbuck operations by opening a roadside services center and hiring 225 additional employees was welcomed by Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and a host of elected and business officials.

Opened 14 months ago directly west of the Pine Ridge Mall and south of Home Depot, the 75,000-square-foot Allstate customer contact center now employs 250 and is in the process of training 120 additional employees during 2013’s first quarter. Those 370 employees, coupled with the 225 in roadside service, would bring Allstate’s total local employment to nearly 600.

Like Otter, Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and Chubbuck Mayor Steven England praised Allstate’s expansion. Blad said he expects Allstate’s employment in Bannock County to ultimately reach 800, making it one of the area’s largest employers.

Allstate’s new center will handle roadside emergency calls for customers across the United States, requiring center representatives, managers and instructors. The existing customer care center is undergoing construction to accommodate the roadside services center.

“Allstate could have gone anywhere else,” Otter told a large crowd inside the company’s dining area. He was flanked by local employees with 225 blue balloons. “This adds a lot of luster to a project started a short time ago. … This is a great day for us all.”

Otter said he commends Allstate when he meets with other governors. He mentioned that he recently met with the premiers of four western Canadian provinces to proceed with the Keystone pipeline project.

Paul Huber, Allstate roadside services chief operations officer, said the new center will increase the company’s flexibility to serve all customers, handle existing volumes and prepare for future strategic growth. The company serves 175,000 households in Idaho.

After conducting an extensive nationwide search, Allstate concluded that “Chubbuck/Pocatello is the perfect location for expansion,” Huber said, mentioning the new center’s first training class for employees will be Jan. 28 with the first live calls set for Feb. 12.

Jody Lewis, Allstate contact center site leader, and Diane Love, temporary roadside services site leader, also addressed the crowd.

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