TWIN FALLS • Now that voters have overturned all three Students Come First laws, educators are left with a lot of unanswered questions.
Voters voiced strong opposition to Propositions 1, 2 and 3 during Tuesday’s election.
Public schools chief Tom Luna released a statement Wednesday about the election results.
He wrote that although Idaho residents have “expressed concerns,” he said he doesn’t believe anyone wants to go back to the old educational system.
“I am as committed as anyone to finding a way to make this happen,” he said in the statement. “We must find a way because our children’s future is at stake.”
Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the Idaho State Department of Education, said the department wouldn’t comment further Wednesday.
Propositions 1 and 2 each failed by roughly 58 percent.
Proposition 3 — which would have provided a laptop for every public high school teacher and student — was rejected by nearly 67 percent of voters.
Earlier this month, the state announced an eight-year, $180 million contract with Hewlett-Packard to provide laptop computers to high schools.
The contract with HP is now void following Tuesday’s election outcome.
It also means a stop to the $9 million in technology funding per year to school districts, the online class graduation requirement and Dual Credit for Early Completers program.
In 2011, legislators passed the Students Come First package of education reform laws. It’s just the second year school laws were in place.
Despite Tuesday’s election results, area school district superintendents say it’s business as usual for teachers and students in classrooms.
“On a day-to-day operation basis, nothing is different today than before the election,” Jerome Superintendent Dale Layne said.
Since voters overturned Proposition 1 — which set new rules for teacher contracts and negotiations — it has left some uncertainty.
Wiley Dobbs, superintendent of the Twin Falls School District, said he’s not sure what’s going to happen with the teacher contracts currently in effect.
One component of the law phased out a form of continuing contracts that essentially served as tenure for teachers. New teachers have received one- or two-year contracts.
The law also limited the scope of negotiations between school districts and teachers unions to salaries and benefits. And negotiations had to take place during open sessions.
Dave Gibson, president of the Twin Falls Education Association, said the “no” vote on Proposition 1 will have a huge impact on negotiations and contracts.
Teachers union representatives and Twin Falls School District officials were already talking about the possible impact of the election during spring negotiations sessions.
Will Teachers Get Bonuses?
Proposition 2 covered pay-for-performance for teachers.
A timeline released last week by Luna’s office shows funding will go out to school districts and public charter schools Nov. 15.
Then, administrators are scheduled to distribute money to teachers from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15.
Luna told the Times-News last month that if educators earned a bonus, “it’s absolutely critical that they get it.”
But when a total of about $38 million goes out later this month, “it still doesn’t guarantee that teachers who earn the money are going to receive it,” he said.
In a Nov. 1 email to school districts, Luna said he was working with the Idaho attorney general’s office to answer whether districts will have the authority to distribute the bonus money.
In Jerome, Layne said the future of pay-for-performance is a big issue.
He said the district will have to get a legal interpretation about whether to move forward with distributing merit pay to teachers.
Gibson, also the co-chairman of the Twin Falls School District’s pay-for-performance committee, said the money teachers earned last year will still be paid out.
But Dobbs said he has heard it both ways — that payments will go out and that they will not go out.
Gibson, a music teacher at Morningside Elementary School, said his initial reaction to the election results is that “we had essentially the result that we expected.”
“It seems to me that it was a pretty important issue on the ballot,” he said.
Gibson said Students Come First wasn’t just an issue for teachers or partisan voters.
It affected everyone, he said, and is an issue “about education and about children.”
“It should have been a clear message to the Legislature that they need to go about this in a different way,” he said.
He said he still wants to see education reform, and that union members want to work with legislators.
Jerome teacher Jay Ostler said he wasn’t surprised by Tuesday’s votes. He said it’s his personal opinion that everyone is on the same page as far as putting students first — and election results don’t change that.
But there’s obviously a difference in opinion about how that should be done, he said.
Ostler said there’s sometimes a tendency to forget that the people who know students best are the ones teaching them on a day-to-day basis.
Gooding Superintendent Heather Williams said the election results were consistent with what she was hearing in the community.
“We’re really uncertain about how it will impact a lot of day-to-day operations,” she said.
Dobbs said the main issue with the legislation among educators he talked with is “the way the laws were conceived in isolation.”
As for the coming weeks, Dobbs said school district administrators are waiting for direction from the state.
It’s unclear at this point what will happen with the money that’s attached to the Students Come First laws.
School districts are already in the middle of their budget years.
Dobbs said what happens with funding associated with Propositions 2 and 3 “has us more than a little nervous.”
He said he hopes there won’t be any drastic changes in funding, because it could be “very detrimental to the school system.”
In Castleford, Superintendent Andy Wiseman said they’re in a “wait and see mode”on direction from the state.
“I think at this point we’re a little bit unsure as far as what the state’s action might be,” he said.