The troubles have been piling up for the Idaho board of education.
In the past month, for example, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter gave the eight-member panel a sharp rap on the knuckles—twice—for financial slip-ups.
Gov. Otter, a first-term Republican, was irked when the board went ahead and administered tests to 2nd and 9th graders even after it ran out of money and did not get additional funding for the program from the legislature. The testing left the board $1 million in debt.
What’s more, the board failed to come up with some of the $18 million in matching funds for a six-year federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program, or GEAR UP, grant. The program helps 7,000 Idaho students from low-income families prepare for college and provides some scholarships. That raised fears of a program shutdown.
And last week, news came that the board’s interim executive director, Karen McGee, was resigning to take a job with Gov. Otter.
Mark Warbis, a spokesman for Gov. Otter, said the board could have avoided getting in debt. Its contract with Data Recognition Corp., a Maple Grove, Minn.-based testing company, has a clause that would have allowed the board to cancel the tests if the program failed to get legislative funding.
“The governor doesn’t have a problem with the testing—he feels it is a sound program and important,” Mr. Warbis said. “But he does not believe it is so important that it overrides taxpayer dollars.”
By the end of last week, the state board appeared on the way to resolving some of the issues.
It voted Sept. 12 for a new contract with the testing company that would eliminate 2nd grade testing but retain the 9th grade tests. That and changes such as cutting down on winter tests for students in grades 3-9 are expected to save $2.4 million in the next three years, said Mark Browning, a spokesman for the board.
Mr. Browning also said the governor has given the board more time to find matching funds for GEAR UP. The program, he added, “is very much alive and well.”