Idaho offers broad school overhaul

Feb. 25, 2011 at 3:10 PM   |   0 comments

BOISE, Idaho, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Idaho Schools Superintendent Tom Luna says he wants to revamp the state's education system to, among other things, curtail collective bargaining by teachers.

The plan, packaged in three bills moving through the state Legislature and backed by Republican Gov. Butch Otter, would eliminate seniority in layoffs and link teacher pay to performance, StateLine.org reported Friday.

While efforts to scale back public employee union influence in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana have angered teachers, the move in Idaho could be the most far-reaching effort to use teachers' rights and performance as part of an attempt to revise a state's entire educational process, observers said.

Luna said Idaho's plan addresses contract issues and would give laptops to all high school students, add online classroom requirements and provide more teacher training and financial transparency in school district budgets.

"There's a national recognition that the current education system we have is not working," Luna told StateLine.org. "We're finally at the point where people realize we have to move from discussion to action because if we do not act, then we will be acted upon by the financial reality that we find ourselves in. I'm not going to sit back and watch our education system collapse under its own weight."

In the past two years, Idaho excised $200 million from its schools, including cuts to reading and math initiatives, freezing teacher pay and, in about 20 districts, moving to a four-day school week. Still, the state must find another $35 million, state education officials said.

Because Idahoans haven't shown an appetite for raising taxes, the only option is to rethink how the state runs its schools, Luna said. Under his plan, class size would grow, leading to about 770 teaching positions being eliminated; teacher contracts would have to be renegotiated annually and cover pay and benefits; and salary freezes would be lifted but higher salaries would be tied to teacher performance ratings.

Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood said the union supports more technology in schools, transparent bargaining sessions and even pay for performance. But she said the union objects to the collective-bargaining rules and provisions making it easier for districts to fire teachers.

"The district doesn't have to show any cause or reason for firing a teacher," she said. "It can be as simple as you didn't play the mayor's son enough on the football field."

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