The 2014 Boise School Board election is a high-profile contest. One need only look at the slate of candidates--seven competing for three seats--to be put before voters Tuesday, Sept. 2. Compare that to the 2012 election which really wasn't a contest at all: Because only three candidates vied for three seats, the polls were dark. Looking back to 2010, approximately 1,500 voters showed up for that trustee election and about 1,100 showed up in 2008, representing 1.5 percent (in 2010) and 1 percent (2008) of registered voters.
But with Common Core, Luna Laws and an increasing need for supplemental levies casting long shadows over education, how Idaho teaches its children has never been so political. In fact, the current president of the Boise School Board of Trustees, A.J. Balukoff, is knee-deep in what is already a contentious race against incumbent Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.
Indeed, Common Core was moved to the front burner Aug. 26 as the six men and one woman who want to join the board appeared at a rare opportunity to size up the candidates prior to the Sept. 2 district-wide election. Vying for one two-year term are marketing consultant and former Idaho legislator Brian Cronin and Travis Jones, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association. Voters will select from a slate of five to fill two other, six-year terms. They include two incumbents: Nancy Gregory and Doug Park, and three challengers: John Hruby, Anthony Shallat and Grant Walden. To the person, each said they supported the core standards, but struggled with Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium--or SBAC--which requires marathon testing of students to gauge their core skills.
"I think the jury is still out," said Gregory.
Hruby said he was concerned that a "core standard test took longer than a college entrance exam," while Park said he was proud of the district's record of student achievement but, "the pilot of SBAC showed that it's costly and takes too much time away from instruction."
Shallat agreed that there had been "a lot of hysteria about SBAC and some of that was warranted," but ultimately the core standards would be good for the district and the state.
The controversy over so-called "tiered licensure" also surfaced at the forum. Boise Weekly readers have already heard from numerous teachers about their concerns for tiered licensure (BW, Feature, "Lessons Learned," Aug. 20, 2014), a controversial proposal that could put a teacher's license in jeopardy on the challenge of a single administrator.
"They're demonizing teachers again, by tying a teacher's license to a local evaluation," IEA President Penny Cyr told BW this month.
"The devil's in the details," said Gregory, would added she wasn't a fan of the plan. "If you're confused, welcome to the party."
And Park siad tiered licensure was a "one-size-fits-all policy that typically doesn't work."
Another hot topic is the lack of early childhood education in Idaho, which inspired Cronin's most impassioned moments of the forum.
"We have economists from both sides of the aisle who support this. It's absurd that there's even a debate over this," said Cronin. "It's an obvious investment we have to make and I'm committed to finding any possible loophole to make this happen."
Jones said the key would be to craft public-private partnerships to help fund pre-kindergarten, but Walden chose to focus his remarks on Boise kindergarten classes.
"We need full-day kindergarten throughout the district," said Walden. "It's not right that it's only available at some of the schools, making children go across town to go to class."
When candidates were asked to weigh in on the district's recent long-term strategic plans, Hruby had some faint praise for the blueprint.
"It has a lot of good concepts, but I'm not sure how many of them are measurable," said Hruby. "I would offer something more bold, more aggressive."
Shallat said while he "reaped the benefits" of being a graduate of the Boise School District, he quickly added, "I think we can do better though."
Walden particularly criticized district administration for doing a poor job of getting the word out on the upcoming election.
"I talked to 40 people yesterday. Two of them knew there was an election," he said.
Which drives home the theory that district residents' votes may count more than ever Sept 2.