State Board of Education Conflicts of Interest

Approximately ten years ago when the Idaho Charter School Commission was formed, a commission member was also an active foundation member of K12, Inc. If that member had resigned from K12, Inc., there would not have been a “conflict of interest.” The job of K12, Inc. was to establish as many charter schools with their model or style of charter school. They did garner a significant portion of the Idaho market share in those days. Even though the gentleman was a nice guy and excused himself when schools involving K12, Inc. came before the commission, it felt like an elephant in the room that nobody wanted to discuss. To make matters worse, the delegation of responsibilities between the Charter School Commission and the Idaho State Board of Education was still in flux, negotiations, or even nonexistent depending on whom you were. The Idaho Parent Teacher Association was justified in being very concerned; don’t even get started on funding formulas. This situation also contributed too many years of friction as well. One unanswered question that resulted was “Did that gentleman help make charter school policy that gave his company an unfair advantage?”

This article is not to argue the merits of charter schools, but is to give you a feel for when appointments occur and conflicts of interest result. The disappearance of a semblance of “fair play,” charges of cronyism, taking away meaningful venues for redress of grievances, and creating long term consequences that can easily result in lawsuits usually happen. When Linda Clark was simultaneously the Superintendent of the West Ada School District and a member of the Idaho State Board of Education, there was at least an appearance of a “conflict of interest.” What was Linda Clark doing by asking the West Ada School District to keep a three-year contract for herself when questions of finances and transparency were tantamount?

Only under the new school district trustees, the West Ada School District came into compliance with the Idaho transparency laws in regards to finances. Linda Clark should have been helping to find her replacement instead of fighting for perks to accompany a six-figure salary and asking to hire an assessment director. I have a hard time justifying levy elections and rate increases when financial information is purposefully being made hard to access; this viewpoint is independent of involving education. How can a person make an informed decision when one of the key pieces of information is being withheld from them?

Even though Linda Clark would bring school administrator experience to the Idaho State Board of Education, she would also bring with her the question “Could her position be abused to allow school administrators to hide matters while she was a school administrator?” The responsibility to protect her reputation was hers and not Governor Otter, who appointed her. Well, at least some, but not all, of the damage is blunted with her resignation as the West Ada School District Superintendent. I question the model of behavior has she displayed though. Is this the model you would want for yourself, your children, or grandchildren? Linda Clark deliberately put her own reputation where it could be called into question. She had made a decision to not avoid problems with public implications for personal gain. With her being on the State Board of Education, how will she view and handle conflicts of interests?

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It is rare for appointments from the Governor to be challenged. Joan Hurlock, in regards to Fish and Game, has been brought up as a recent example. The earlier Milford Terrell’s 2008 reappointment to the State Board of Education would have been a better example. Milford did get his reappointment, but it came at a cost. In 2007-2008, the State Board of Education spent money for ISAT testing without appropriations from the state legislature. The backlash was Milford’s reappointment was being held up until concessions involving transparency and complying with state law occurred; his reappointment was almost scuttled. Two of these concessions were 1) voting would not occur during the executive session part of board meetings and 2) notification of specific topics will be listed on the agenda that will be discussed in executive session. I do not know of anyone willing to test that general notes in the executive session are subject to public information requests, but I suspect the State Board of Education would not comply with this until possibly very recently. Wasn’t the initial approval of Linda Clark’s three year contract for the West Ada School District done without proper notification on the agenda?

About two years ago the Deputy Attorney General to the State Board of Education left the state with his wife for employment in another state. During Milford’s reappointment that deputy attorney general did not effectively advise the State Board of Education that they were consistently violating state law for years when it came to executive session matters, even though that deputy attorney general attended every Board meeting. To make matters worse, at that time half the Board was composed of prominent lawyers and they knew better. What was not discussed in 2008 with the majority of the Idaho Legislature was the conflict of interest of having that deputy attorney general.

In 2005, the Department of Administration had me present to the State Board of Education that Boise State University was not willing to implement a workplace violence policy as per state law. The Department of Administration did not have jurisdiction, but was tasked with coming up with a model for the whole state. Retaliation had already occurred in the College of Engineering; the Dean of the College of Engineering at that time was married to that deputy attorney general. This “conflict of interest” of their own making was the excuse the State Board of Education could not investigate Boise State University; the State Board of Education would not recuse its own lawyer when asked in a State Board of Education public forum. The official response from the Board was “No discussion. No action.” The official records stated I was not clear on what I wanted. Unofficially, when I walked into a room, State Board of Education members walked out. This is the reason why I opposed any reappointment of Kempthorne State Board of Education members under the Otter administration.

What I did discus with the Senate Education Chairman in 2008 was religious discrimination at Boise State University. Boise State University was trying to claim our state constitution trumped a well-established U.S. Supreme Court case. The Attorney General’s Office tried to do the same. This later resulted in a lawsuit in December 2008 and a subsequent change in state law. The price I paid was a member of Governor’s Office did not want me to talk any legislators and I was to be ticketed by a member of the Idaho State Police for trespass on public property; that person in the Governor’s Office is long gone, but I do not expect the Governor’s Office would welcome me any time soon. The first question I have is “Are public state college and university students welcome to present problems, like compliance with state law, with the State Board of Education after their own institutions ignore them?” The second question is “Is it standard operating procedure to now have students sue their own institutions, have the institutions ask for non-disclosure agreements, and then jack up the tuition?” I can see the situation in the second question occurring when administrators are being held liable in their personal capacities in lawsuits.

I am not questioning Governor Otter’s vetting process; I am questioning Linda Clark’s actions after she was appointed to the State Board of Education. If her appointment is confirmed by the state senate, will this mean we are agreeing to turn back the clock to have a blind eye to accountability? Unfortunately, there is cause to ask our state senators to not confirm her and ask Governor Otter to suggest another person to replace Linda Clark.

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