[Vision2020] Voter Dissatisfaction With Low School Funding Runs High

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Thu Sep 23 10:15:20 PDT 2010

Courtesy of today's (September 23, 2010) Moscow-Pullman Daily News.


Voter dissatisfaction with low school funding runs high
While voters take stand on education issues, more remain unsure about
leadership in schools

By Ben Botkin Times-News staff writer
September 23, 2010

As Idaho voters make clear their displeasure with cuts made to public
education spending, the men who seek to lead the state's schools for the
next four years are campaigning in relative obscurity.

A recent poll of 625 people likely to vote in the Nov. 2 election shows
that 56 percent think per-pupil spending on K-12 public education is too
low. The poll, conducted by the Daily News and six other daily newspapers,
also shows that 23 percent of voters remain undecided about the race for
superintendent of public instruction, possibly because some don't know
who's running.

While GOP incumbent Tom Luna leads Democratic challenger Stan Olson 47-30,
the poll shows that 18 percent of respondents don't recognize Luna's name
- giving him by far the least name recognition of any incumbent running in
a statewide race this year. Olson, a retired Boise School District
superintendent, is unknown to 53 percent of poll respondents.

"You have to consider Luna the favorite, but by no means is this race a
done deal," said Brad Coker, managing director of Washington, D.C.-based
Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., which conducted polling for the

In a way, Olson has one advantage with low name recognition, as Coker said
it gives him an opportunity to introduce himself to voters.

Luna and Olson are running against a backdrop of voter unhappiness with
the first-ever cuts made to public schools funding. Fifty-nine percent of
those polled said they oppose the Legislature's decision to cut public
school funding by $460 per pupil instead of raising taxes.

With higher fees for school activities and children funneled into fuller
classrooms, said Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education
Association, "Parents - at least those who have enrolled their children in
schools - have sort of gotten a jump on the political season."

Laurie Boeckel, legislative vice president for the Idaho Parent Teacher
Association, said, "I've definitely seen an increase in parents that want
to be informed."

The Idaho PTA doesn't endorse candidates, while the IEA's political action
committee is backing Olson. The majority of teachers in the Moscow
Education Association said Wednesday they'd vote for Olson.

"Our members are extremely concerned," Wood said. "They want an educator
leading our schools."

Luna, who is seeking a second term, ran a weights and measures business
for much of his career. He's also served on the Nampa School District
Board of Trustees and has led state commissions that have worked on
achievement standards and the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

Olson had a nearly 40-year career in education before retiring as
superintendent of the Boise School District earlier this year. His career
includes stints as a teacher, coach, adjunct professor and administrator.

Olson says the state needs to look at how education cuts affected both
rural and larger school districts.

There needs to be a clear definition of the Idaho Constitution's
description of a "general, uniform and thorough system" of public schools,
Olson said, adding a lack of planning and educational priorities has
worsened the situation.

"What's troublesome is not only what happened this year, but what might
happen next year," Olson said.

Luna said his record shows that when the economy was strong he pushed for
new revenues for schools and put them into targeted areas like math and
reading programs, textbooks and technology.

"Not only did we get more money for schools, but we put it where it's
needed the most," Luna said, emphasizing he's made efforts to preserve

At the same time, Luna said, money isn't the only factor.

"People also want to make sure the money we have is being spent
efficiently and effectively, and we're getting results," he said. "More
money alone is not indicative of a high-quality education system. If that
was indicative, Washington, D.C., would have the best schools."

Dean Cronmiller, a 57-year-old retiree from Buhl who was polled, said the
public needs to get clearer accounting from the government about how
different sources of education funding are being spent. Visually impaired,
Cronmiller cannot read a newspaper unless a family member reads to him. He
does spend time listening to the television, but hasn't heard any
information about the two candidates yet.

Regardless of what he hears, he stresses his independent streak.

"I consider myself an American," he said. "I don't vote Democratic and I
don't vote Republican."

Poll participants had less concern about higher-education funding, with
only 35 percent believing that it's too low. Forty-two percent believe
it's about right, while 9 percent were undecided.

But poll participant Rene Lane of Lewiston said her biggest concern is
college becoming unaffordable.

"To run our country, we need people that have got a lot of education,"
said Lane, 50, who manages a home day care business. "To get a good-paying
job anymore, you have to have an education."

She said she wouldn't vote for a candidate who wants to cut education. For
now, she hasn't had a chance to gauge whether Luna or Olson will get her

"Right before election, I'll do a bunch of cramming," Lane said. "I kind
of consider myself an independent because I will vote either way."


Later, Moscow.

Tom Hansen
San Francisco, California

"The Pessimist complains about the wind, the Optimist expects it to change
and the Realist adjusts his sails."

- Unknown

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