Idaho First Lady Lori Otter made it clear that she was expressing her own views, not necessarily those of her husband, Idaho Governor C,L, (Butch) Otter's or of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's, as she addressed an audience of students, educators and patrons Wednesday. She urged her audience to "Vote YES for Education" (Idaho Proposition Bills 1, 2, and 3) at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center.
"I'm speaking on what I believe as a former educator, teacher and principal, and now as Idaho's First Lady," Otter said. "I am not here to give a spiel for Butch and Tom; that's not how I roll."
The Propositions are veto referendum bills seeking to overturn the controversial Students Come First (SCF) legislation passed in 2011. A "no" vote rejects certain segments of the SFC legislation, while a "yes" vote means moving forward with the legislation. With a slide show highlighting the talking points of the three propositions, Otter went on to candidly, but passionately, explain (and share her thoughts on) the propositions that will be on the ballot Nov. 6.
PROPOSITION 1 deals with the unions and teachers bargaining rights. Teacher contract negotiations will take place in public meetings and parents will help evaluate teachers; "last hired/last fired is eliminated; there will be no more seniority and tenure is phased out.
"This law gives control to the school boards, principals and patrons; If Prop 1 fails, the unions will again take over all the bargaining," Otter said. "Unions were founded by people with an agenda who have no idea what the issues are here in Idaho."
PROPOSITION 2, which Otter described as "probably the most controversial" of the three, is the Pay for Performance Plan. Teachers are financially rewarded and could receive an extra $2,000 by making sure students scores increase; while ineffective teachers will be weeded out.
"Frankly students, your teacher is responsible for moving kids forward for achievement. That's what we sign up for," Otter said, speaking directly to a group of Blackfoot High School students. She went on, "As a teacher, I'd rather be paid on how well I'm doing in my classroom...not on how well I did as a college student or on what degrees I have."
PROPOSITION 3, known as the Idaho Online Learning Veto Referendum, provides students with laptop computers and requires that high school students take two online classes to graduate. All juniors and seniors can earn two years worth of college credit paid for by the state.
It was Proposition 3 that created the most reaction from Otter's audience.
"Children are humans. The computer isn't a cure-all for everything. Kids need humans to teach them," said Edna Gyder, a former Blackfoot middle school teacher of 20 years.
"It boggles my mind that people have issues with this," Otter replied. "This is not about replacing teachers with computers.
"We can't apply an emotional argument to this issue. There will always be teachers. This is about a blended learning environment...it's about education reform."
Mark Kartchner, principal of Blackfoot's Independence Alternative High School, expressed concern, saying that while the laptop technology is great, he fears that the technology will not be maintained by the state and that it will end up creating more problems.
"The state tends to promise things that they can't deliver," Kartner said. "Technology gets old very quickly and we need to know that these computers will be maintained."
Otter noted that the funding for the laptop computers has already been allocated by the state and that maintenance issues will be looked into on the state level.
In closing, Otter quipped, "Voting 'Yes' on these propositions...means, rock on!"