Local teachers rally in opposition of education reform plan

BLACKFOOT — At least 75 teachers, parents and students rallied for an hour Monday in support of Idaho teachers and educators and in opposition to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's "Students Come First" plan.
Teachers stood with signs on the east and west corners of Meridian and Judicial from about 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Participants were greeted with plenty of horns honking from drivers who drove past.
"We want our community to be aware of what is happening in the Legislature," said Bobbie Steffensen, co-president of the Blackfoot Education Association, "and we want the public to contact their state senators and legislators to vote 'No" on the Luna plan.
"Public educators have not had any input of this plan," Steffensen said. "We need to plan together that is truly best for our students.
"We are not against change and technology," Steffensen said. "We would just like to have a say."
"This is an opportunity for parents to stand with educators," said Bekki Mangum, co-president of the Blackfoot Education Association.
Snake River Education Association president Cyd Capson said, "We are here to protest Luna's education reform plan."
"Luna came up with this plan; he had no input from educators," said Michelle Miles. "He [Luna] wants to put teachers in their place."
Heidi Thomas, age 10, was at the rally to support teachers' rights and kids' education.
Her mom, Sue Thomas, said, "I'm here to support teachers, education and students." Thomas is also a teacher.
"We control what's going on with computers at home; the idea of turning my kids loose with a laptop is troubling to me," Thomas said.
Randall Smith, a 2010 Blackfoot High School graduate, said he was protesting the on-line requirement.
"In my experience, the most valuable things I learned came from classroom discussions."
Referring to on-line classes, retired teacher Garnalee Harrington said there are not too many students who are not motivated. "They need teachers to help motivate them.
"I don't know where Luna is going to pay for the laptops," Harrington said. "If the laptops cost an average $400 per laptop, the total cost would be $3.8 million.
The 770 teacher positions Luna suggests eliminating would total $3.08 million if each teacher received an average salary of $40,000 per year," Harrington said.
"Legislators don't have respect for teachers," said teacher Marlene Shurtz, "They have shown that blatantly the past couple years when they removed the property-tax safety net for education.
"We've suffered since they did that," Shurtz said.
"They want employees who are well-prepared," Shurtz said, "but they cut funding so we won't be able to update on books when we need them."
"I'm out here supporting public education and the needs of schools," said teacher Kathy Torgerson. "I don't believe Tom Luna's plan is the solution."
"Sometimes it's important to get out in public and how your face to help people be aware of the issues," said teacher Mike Torgerson.
Over 100 were at another teacher rally in Pocatello; over 160 people were at the rally in Idaho Falls. Rallies also took place in Boise, Twin Falls, Moscow, Coeur d'Alene, Hailey, Nampa and Payette.

Idaho lawmakers can be contacted at (800) 626-0471.