School administrators director: On evaluations, timing matters

By Seth Ogilvie

One education professional is expressing frustration with a State Department of Education audit on teacher evaluations — and the perception that school districts erred in those evaluations.

As first reported by Idaho Education News, in July,  Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra received an audit from the consulting group McREL International that said that 99% of the Idaho teacher evaluations they reviewed were incomplete.

But the timeline of the audit and evaluations disproves that assessment, said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

The McREL audit reviewed teacher evaluations completed in the 2014-15 school year. The legislation implementing the career ladder, which mandates the audits of the evaluations, didn’t go into effect until July 2015, well after those evaluations were completed.

“The release date of this report has caused confusion,” Ybarra wrote in a memo to school districts. “This audit was never intended to be an ‘I gotcha’ of Idaho educators.”

But the news, and its nuance, comes just weeks before the Idaho Legislature convenes its 2017 session, and that could have implications for districts.

“It’s a mess now (for) PR, image,” Winslow said. “I think it is damaging. We’re trying to get $58 million for teachers, and this just erodes that confidence. ”

The report states: “Of particular importance was information associated with the use of the Charlotte Danielson Framework.” (Read the full report on the Idaho Education News website.)

The Danielson group website explains that framework as “a research-based set of components of instruction, aligned to the INTASC standards, and grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching.”

The problem: School districts in Idaho create their own evaluation systems. They follow the rules and statute created by the state and then submit those plans to state education department.

The code doesn’t require the direct adoption of the Danielson teacher evaluation framework, but that is what McREL evaluated. “Only 1% of the districts are similar to the original model.” Winslow said “Who cares? You didn’t have to be.”

Those evaluation plans vary: Some have three ratings. Some have four. Some are very close to the Danielson teacher evaluation framework, but many aren’t.

“You want to see an audit based on what they should be doing, not on something they shouldn’t be doing,” Winslow said. “So the way they hired them to do the audit, in my opinion, the way they set up the audit, was in a way to ensure the districts would be out of compliance. They got the result they were looking for.”

“It’s irresponsible to pay someone $100,000 or whatever they paid them,” and then not show anyone the audit, Winslow added.

According to Jeff Church, communications director for the State Department of Education, McREL received $112,291 for the audit.

Church said the audit was required by House Bill 296, the 2015 legislation that set up the career ladder. The language in the legislation does instruct an annual audit of teaching evaluations on randomly selected school districts.

The audit “was intended to provide clarity during the roll out of the Career Ladder,” Ybarra wrote in a memo to school districts.

So why evaluate the districts on the Danielson framework? That direction came from July 2015 recommendations from the Professional Evaluation Review Committee.  The committee, made of 14 education professionals from throughout the state, said the framework “is resource intensive — hence one reason it is recognized as a valuable tool for professional growth and can be used for personnel reasons.” Those recommendations came from the committee came after the 2014-15 school year ended — the year McREL audited.

Winslow still questions why the audit was done in this way. Beyond the optics and the public relations issues, Winslow doesn’t think districts or the state will learn much from the report.

“I think the last thing (Ybarra) was trying to do was hurt districts,” Winslow said. “That’s not in her profile.”

But, he said, the state needs to get its auditing process right so it accurately reflects the process, adding he fears Ybarra “just hurt the profession.”

“Please don’t screw this up,” Winslow said. “We get many more of these, the whole career ladder starts to get questionable.”

Melissa Davlin contributed to this report.


Idaho Reports extended interview with Stephen Hardesty of Perkins Coie

President-elect Trump has mentioned multiple changes to international trade, including renegotiating or eliminating trade agreements and labeling China a currency manipulator. How might this affect Idaho’s businesses? Stephen Hardesty of Perkins Coie sits down with Melissa Davlin to discuss the uncertainty businesses are facing, how changes might affect business owners, and what people can do to prepare.

For more, watch the Dec. 2, 2016 episode of Idaho Reports, available online at





Senate Minority Chief of Staff Diane Kelly passes away

Senate Minority Chief of Staff Diane Kelly passed away at her home in Boise on Nov. 12 after a battle with cancer. She was 54.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Sarah Jane McDonald remembered Kelly as personable and kind. She recalled how nice Kelly was to the Senate pages.

“She just was always watching out for them,” McDonald said.

Secretary of the Senate Jennifer Novak said she considered Kelly a close friend. Novak’s door opens to the Senate hallway, and she looked forward to seeing Kelly walk by every day, she said Friday.

“She was just a genuine, quality person,” Novak said, recalling her generosity. In January 2015, Kelly had two extra tickets to see President Barack Obama during his visit to Boise State University. “Because I’m really good at being non-partisan, she gave me one,” Novak said.

“Diane was a dedicated public servant. Her historical knowledge was so valuable, especially for new members,” said Senate Minority Caucus Chair Maryanne Jordan. “She is sorely missed.”

For journalists, Diane was a lifesaver when it came to scheduling interviews with Democratic senators. Any time I dropped by her office, she’d invite me to chat. The chair in front of her desk was a welcome refuge in the middle of chaotic (and sometimes hostile) legislative days.

Kelly is survived by her husband, Roberto Ceniceros. Donations can be made to the Idaho Foodbank in Kelly’s honor.


Denney to propose changes to campaign finance laws

During orientation for new lawmakers on Wednesday, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney discussed changes to Idaho’s Sunshine Laws his office plans to propose during the 2017 legislative session.

Among those changes:

-Increasing the penalty for campaign contribution violations from $250 to $2,500;

-Getting rid of the 16-day period before an election in which candidates must report $1,000 contributions within 48 hours, instead requiring candidates and PACs to report $1,000 contributions within 48 hours regardless of when received;

-Require online filing for all campaign finance reports;

-Require campaign finance reports for all candidates or measures that raise or spend more than $500, including previously exempt local elections, but excluding party positions like precinct committeemen.

Denney also said his office is working on legislation that would require more information on political action committee beneficial owners – those in the PAC who make decisions on how to spend the money — as well as a proposal that would shed more light on “gray money,” or hard-to-trace money passed from PAC to PAC and spent on independent expenditures.

Another change: A more solid definition of when an expenditure occurs. Currently, many candidates and committees don’t report campaign expenditures until after a bill has been paid, rather than when a service is ordered and the money is committed. That means reporting sometimes doesn’t happen until after the election, Denney said.

Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, who ran against Denney in the 2014 Republican primary for Secretary of State, said the proposals are a good start to adding more transparency to Idaho’s elections, adding he hopes for more stakeholder input.

“It’s overdue,” McGrane said. “Our election laws as well as our campaign finance laws are overdue (for change).”

In his discussion with the new lawmakers, Denney referenced recent campaign finance controversies, specifically the recent West Ada recall election. School board elections are currently exempt from disclosure.

Denney himself has been involved with election controversies. During the 2012 primary, then-House Speaker Denney and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle directed House Republican Victory Fund money to political action committees that targeted House GOP incumbents by supporting Republican challengers. Money in those campaigns went through multiple PACs before being spent. Denney told the Associated Press at the time he intended the money to go to identifying Republican voters, not unseating incumbents, and if he could do it again, he would have put the money directly into those voter ID efforts instead of giving it to the PAC owner.

In a May interview with Idaho Reports, Denney discussed strengthening campaign finance laws. You can watch that episode here. 

Some of his forthcoming proposals, like the online filing and the increase in fines for violations, are inspired by an attempted voter initiative spearheaded by former Democratic Secretary of State candidate Holli Woodings. While the initiative failed to get enough votes to get on the ballot, Denney said he liked many of the ideas – though he changed a few of them to make them more palatable to lawmakers.

“I just looked at what she had and picked the things I thought were doable in the Legislature,” he said. (In past interviews, Woodings has acknowledged the difficulty of getting some of those proposals through lawmakers, adding that’s why she chose to go through voter initiative.)

McGrane said eventually, he would like to see a central online repository for all election filings in the state. Currently, the Secretary of State’s website lists only statewide initiatives and candidates; Candidates for county, city or other election districts all file paperwork in different offices, making it hard to figure out who has donated in multiple local races.

Denney said he isn’t sure if the proposals will be in one bill or multiple pieces of legislation. He plans to shop around the language to lawmakers in coming weeks.

During Wednesday’s orientation, the new lawmakers responded well to Denney’s proposals, he said. “They saw the sunshine from the inside,” he said.


What we’re watching today

Idaho Reports will live-stream Idaho election coverage tonight starting at 8 pm MST at this link. Here’s a preview of what co-host Melissa Davlin and producer Seth Ogilvie will be looking for as results roll in:


MELISSA: I’m feeling burned out on national politics, so I’m happy to nerd out on some Idaho issues today.

Other than the obvious legislative races to watch — Districts 1, 5, 6, 15, 24, 26 and 29 — I’m keeping an eye on how enthusiasm and disgust for Trump will affect down-ticket races throughout Idaho.

In the 2012 general election, nine counties saw a voter turnout of 78 percent or higher:

County Turnout
Franklin 82.2%
Jefferson 81.91%
Bear Lake 81.90%
Power 79.95%
Bingham 79.67%
Bonneville 79.36%
Lemhi 78.9%
Fremont 78.48%
Oneida 78.4%

With the exception of Bonneville County, which is the fourth most-populous in Idaho, these are all rural counties. All are in Congressional District 2, and, except for Lemhi, all are in southeast Idaho.

SETH: Outside of Bonneville, some of the numbers can be explained by small sample size. Take the precincts in Ada County, for example. They have decent turnout when you look to the district as a whole, but get down to the precinct level where you’re dealing with a few thousand voters like you’d see in some of these more rural counties and the numbers look similar.

Pr. 1403 82.5%
Pr. 1503 79.1%
Pr. 1601 81.2%
Pr. 1902 82.8%
Pr. 2001 84.1%
Pr. 2101 80.0%
Pr. 2207 78.4%

I don’t think this points to any clear delineation between urban and rural voters or tells us very much about the habits of these communities. The same numbers can be found fairly easily when viewing other small groups of voters in Idaho. I think we can all stand up and applaud the registered voters in these areas for getting out for presidential elections and hopefully the trend continues.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       MELISSA: Sure, if you go precinct-by-precinct, you’ll find examples in several counties throughout the state, both large and small, of high voter turnout. The precincts with the highest turnout in Idaho in 2012 (all 90 percent or higher) all had relatively few registered voters — most fewer than 100.

Precinct Ballots cast Percentage
Lewis Co Precinct 008: Slickpoo 9 ballots of 9 registered voters 100%
Blaine County 016 Yale 10 ballots of 10 registered voters 100%
Lemhi County, Mineral Hill 46 ballots of 48 registered voters 95.83%
Bear Lake#10 Geneva/Pegram 85 ballots of 88 registered voters 95.59%
Cassia 123 Sublett 40 ballots of 42 registered voters 95.24%
Idaho Co 027 Slate Creek 2 35 ballots out of 37 registered voters 94.59%
Bear Lake #6 Bern 85 ballots of 92 registered voters 92.39%
Shoshone Co Precinct 11: Calder 94 ballots of 102 registered voters 92.16%

But in eastern Idaho, you find consistent high turnout both on the precinct and county levels — more consistent than other parts of the state. And I’m less interested in the rural/urban divide than the demographics. Southeast Idaho, of course, has a high concentration of LDS residents.

With the distaste for Trump among Mormon voters (which has been heavily covered in Utah, though not as much Idaho) I’m curious whether turnout will be as high. I’m guessing it will be, but I won’t be surprised if some voters skip the presidential race. I also won’t be surprised if McMullin beats Trump in some of those precincts.

SETH: The Utah-Idaho similarities are interesting but there is also northern Nevada (as we talked about in the primary). Some interesting things are happening with their early voting. Six percent more Democrats have already turned out to vote in Nevada. That’s a good showing in any year for Nevada Dems, especially considering most of that early voting came from the northern and rural parts of the state — not Las Vegas, where you would expect a high turn-out from the Hispanic population and more traditional Democratic voters. That 6% lead doesn’t take into consideration how those people voted, but it suggests that Republicans aren’t as excited in the early voting results.

Then there is the LDS factor. As you pointed out, many of those Republicans might see Trump as a bridge too far and vote for one of the third party candidates, leaving the early voting numbers in northern Nevada looking pretty troubling for the Republican nominee. We’ve seen that play out in recent polls in Idaho’s 2nd congressional district with Hillary Clinton actually holding a small advantage. And in Utah, McMullin could be playing spoiler to both Clinton and Trump.

To get all the way back around to the point you were making, the LDS vote this year could be different from the traditional Republican block that it normally is, primarily because they don’t have a traditional Republican candidate to vote for at the top of the ballot.

MELISSA: And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that turnout will be significantly down in these Idaho LDS communities. I just wonder how many folks are going to skip that presidential race. I’m also wondering if, in some of those conservative southeast precincts, Trump, McMullin and Johnson will put Clinton into third or even fourth place.

And there are plenty of other things to vote on, including HJR5, the constitutional amendment. It narrowly lost the last time it was on the ballot — in 2014’s general election, as HJR2. Voters rejected the amendment, with just 49.4% voting yes.

I looked at the county-by-county breakdown, and in a few cases, the difference was less than 10 votes. (Five votes in Clark and Lemhi counties, six in Jerome, and just one in Payette.)

In 2014, though, there were so many other statewide general election races (including every single state constitutional officer) that HJR2 got shorted in coverage and financial support. There were no committees, no ads, no fundraising — just a short, confusing description in the Secretary of State voter guide.

This year, though, the Idaho Republican Party and several lawmakers have turned their attention to getting HJR5 passed. GOP lawmakers are putting huge amounts of money into Citizens for HJR5, including $5,000 from House Speaker Scott Bedke and $5,000 from former House Speaker Congressman Mike Simpson. Big campaign spenders like Micron, Idaho Dairymen’s Association, and the Idaho Forest Group have each ponied up the same amount of cash. The latest campaign report has Citizens for HJR5 at $77,050. (And if you read Betsy Russell’s story on Citizens for HJR5, you know the “citizens” in the committee are all lobbyists, lawmakers, GOP candidates or lawmakers’ family members.)

Unified Republican support doesn’t mean HJR5 will pass, as we saw in 2012 with Props 1 2 3. Unlike Props 1 2 3, though, there is no organized Vote No effort from those who oppose HJR5. We’ve seen high-profile dissents from Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, but I’m not sure that’s enough to tank the effort.

SETH: HJR5 is a weird complex initiative that either undermines the separations of power created by the Idaho constitution, or does nothing but codify an already existing rule. It all depends on how you read it and that’s exactly what people across Idaho have been doing.

There are not many races on the ballot, and outside of some local bonding issues, not a whole lot of prose to sift through. People will have the chance to sit down with the text and figure out how they read the law, and that’s a stark contrast to 2 years ago when it was on a jam-packed ballot with numerous constitutional offers.

We’ve seen several mailers go out in support of the initiative and a few editorials against it, but the only thing guiding a decision in the actual ballot box will be the text. Two years ago, it was close but needing only a simple majority meant even if the votes were totally random, it was going to be close. A coin flip would have gotten the bill passed half of the time.

Anecdotally, Idahoans have a propensity to vote against things they don’t understand, or simply leave the decision blank, as about 38,000 did two years ago on a similar measure. I’ve received several questions from friends, family and viewers on the issue, and more than a super majority said they would vote no either because of confusion or dislike of the idea. Having read the text several times myself, I get the confusion. I can read it several different ways, and if my very anecdotal metric holds true that doesn’t bode well for HJR5.

MELISSA: Is “anecdotal metric” a thing? I don’t think it is. You’re the kind of person Nate Silver hates. (I’ll also point out that the majority of other confusing measures, like endowment reform and an amendment on municipal electric system debts, have passed in recent years. If anything, 2014’s HJR2 failure was an anomaly.) 

SETH: I think the two examples you gave show that an electorate can be informed on complicated issues and we should never underestimate the Idaho populace when they are able to get the info they need. The other initiatives referenced in the article were all fairly straightforward measures that were easy to understand.

MELISSA: The other unknown: The Idaho Supreme Court race. I have no clue how this will turn out. Both candidates have worked hard, and are high-profile in their respective circles, but relatively unknown to the general Idaho public.

SETH: The Supreme Court races in Idaho are by far the hardest for those of us in the media to handicap and even interpret after the results are in. The candidates aren’t allowed to comment on almost everything the voters would like to know when they are casting their ballots. There is no public polling outside of the bar survey to understand why people feel the way they do about the respective candidates, and for the most part, the people in the races are usually not large public figures that the majority of Idahoans have already been introduced to.

These two candidates have both run solid campaigns, but the race was bound to take a backseat to the presidential election — and, to a lesser degree, the individual legislative races in which voters in those districts have a much better grasp on the candidates.

The popular wisdom in the pundit class is this is a referendum on Sen. Curt McKenzie, but outside of Boise and his district, McKenzie is not exactly a household name. With Robyn Brody’s deep ties to the trial lawyers, she has arguably just as good a network around the state.

She has out-raised McKenzie significantly and has spent her way into a push in the name recognition portion of the race. That leaves us in HJR5 territory, except there is no description on the ballot.

When I attempt to make sense of this race late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, I will do so with the presupposition that a small portion cast a ballot for or against the substance of the respective candidacies and a large portion voted for the person their aunt or uncle advised or the name they thought sounded better.

It’s a cynical take, but when people are forced to vote for candidates who aren’t allowed to explain what they will do in the office they are running for, we end up here. As we move forward, we should listen to what Jim Weatherby told the Idaho Statesman’s Bill Dentzer: Appointment based on a commission’s recommendation “would be a far better method, removing the choice from obvious partisan political considerations and special interest group pressure.”

MELISSA: I do think it’s interesting that Idaho voters choose Supreme Court judges. That came up as the final question in our Supreme Court debate. (If you missed it, you can watch here or listen here.)

We’ll delve into all of this and more during our live election coverage from the Idaho GOP election night party. We’ll also cut in with interviews from the Idaho Dem’s election night party. We’ll analyze legislative, statewide and congressional races, and try to avoid talking about toxic presidential politics as much as humanly possible.



Crowd sourcing a campaign

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Donald Trump isn’t your average Presidential candidate, and he isn’t your typical debater. The pundit class has been speculating wildly about what Trump may or may not do as he enters the first debate of the season with Hillary Clinton on Monday. If you’ve donated to the Trump campaign, you might have some control over what he does.

A survey sent out to Trump supporters this week reads like a choose-your-own-adventure for the debate with 30 questions that will guide Trump through the event. “Should Trump continue to describe himself as an outsider ready to take on the gridlock, corruption, and waste of Washington?” Donate ten dollars to the Trump campaign and you could choose yes or no. (Or just use this link.)

Don’t think control over the debate is enough and want to decide how the campaign is run? Use this link and give your input: “What kind of ads should we air in key battleground states?”

At a press conference in Boise on Thursday, Donald Trump Jr said they had “1/10th the staff, probably 1/10th the budget” of the Clinton campaign, but it would appear as though they are trying to increase the decision-making exponentially.

For years, campaigns have done push surveys, and data mined voters to find out what they are passionate about. But directly asking their donors and supporters exactly what the should do and how they should debate is rare.  Donald Trump claims to simply be a voice of the movement in the email message, saying “As your champion, I need to know what you want me to fight for on that stage.”

A candidate entering a major presidential debate without already knowing what they want to fight for might not be new, but a campaign willing to turn that decision over to the internet (or at least give the appearance of such) is novel.

Trump has been called the first reality television candidate, and we all knew we’d be able to vote one of them off the island in November. But now, you’re able to vote on what Trump will do when you watch this unique reality program called democracy on television Monday.