By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports
It took zero emails between the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to pass a $1.9 billion public schools budget through the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee with zero dissenting votes.
“The emails, maybe they give the impression that there’s no communication,” said Greg Wilson, the Governor’s senior policy adviser on education. “I feel like the lines of communication between our offices are very very open.”
The critical bridge between the two offices appears to be deputy superintendent Marilyn Whitney.
“Marilyn used to do education policy for the Governor (Butch Otter),” said Governor Brad Little. “She knows instinctively where I am on a lot of these issues, so the relationship is good.”
“I think we’re working really well together,” said Wilson. “Marilyn Whitney is over there now, she’s my predecessor, and she and I talk on a daily basis.”
At the Idaho Press Club’s annual breakfast with the governor on Wednesday, Little said that he and the superintendent meet regularly. “There’s no electronic record of she and I sitting down in my office, or in the conference room and talking,” said Little.
Superintendent Sherri Ybarra posts her schedule weekly. The record goes back to November 26th, twenty days after the election. Her schedule shows only one meeting listed with Little before the inauguration, a 60-minute conversation on December 18th. After Little and Ybarra were sworn into office, they have had one 30-minute meeting on February 8th, according to Ybarra’s schedule.
Ybarra was one of the first people Little met with when developing his education priorities. Even before the election was decided, according to Wilson, Ybarra and Little sat down in an attempt to set the K-12 budget.
That meeting was not in the time frame covered by Ybarra’s publicly available schedule. Other forms of communication, like telephone calls or chats in the hall, would not be a public record either. According to Wilson, these conversations are their preferred method of communication. “They either communicate in person or on the phone,” he said.
Marissa Morrison, the Governor’s Press Secretary, said that the office is not having in-person conversations to bypass public records laws. “It’s never been like an edict or something that we’ve talked about not to do business over email,” said Morrison. Furthermore, there is no law that says all state discussions must have an electronic record.
Despite the lack of public documentation, the governor’s office seems very happy with its relationship with the Superintendent. “The e-mails don’t reflect the fact that we’re working in the same direction on a lot of issues,” said Wilson.