Author Archives: Levi B Cavener

2016 Idaho Education Reviewed, and 2017 Previewed: A Teacher’s Perspective

My crystal ball was rather cloudy last year. I had predicted that the major focus of the 2016 legislature would focus on taxation, largely by decreasing the highest marginal tax rate for the wealthiest in the Gem State. I thought education would take a backseat.

And while there certainly was discussion of updating Idaho’s tax code, those conversations fizzled like Democrats in their elections this year.

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Coming soon to a school near you Idaho: Charter school cronyism

Screenshot 2016-05-08 at 7.41.23 PM  In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State’s education world including the multi-million broadband fiasco, citizens have a right to be leery about cozy relationships between government entities and their business partners.

Take, for example, the recent charter school petition Caldwell School District received from Pathways in Education (PIE). From a public records request, that petition stated that PIE would pay California-based Pathways Management Group (PMG), operated by charter entrepreneur Mr. John Hall, to the tune of $127 per student per month for “charter management.”

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With desired enrollment of 300 students and a flexible year-round schedule, that creates a significant contract of $450k for PMG per year. It is unclear what services would be provided for this fee  as many of the services listed such as paying utility bills and purchasing electronics appear to be redundant activities the Caldwell district office already performs. Continue reading

Part 2: Red flags abound in Caldwell’s newest proposed charter school

This is part 2 of a multipart series. I encourage all readers to also view part 1 here.


Unfortunately, the red flags continue to stack upon the previous five detailed yesterday for Pathways in Education’s (PIE’s) charter application.

Red flag six: The student-teacher ratio is astronomically high for an alternative school.

The budget allocates for only 6 FTE classroom teachers. At an anticipated enrollment of 300 students, that results in a bloated student-teacher ratio of 50 to 1. Fifty to one.

This ratio would be considered much too high for a public school in general; however, for an alternative school in particular in which the focus is on small class sizes and additional interaction time for each individual student, this ratio is obtusely top heavy.

See page 207 for more information.

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Red flags abound in Caldwell’s newest proposed charter school: Welcome to the era of Charter Management Companies in Idaho

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Caldwell School District has received a fresh application for a proposed charter school.  This particular proposal for the charter entity Pathways in Education is interesting in the sense that not only will it will be the first time that Caldwell will consider a possible alternative high school under a charter, but it will also be the first time that Caldwell will consider paying an outside “consulting” company in order to manage the charter.

Pathways in Education (PIE) is the latest of a series of charter schools promoted and managed by married former Hollywood teachers John and Joan Hall (their daughter, Jamie, and son, John Jr, are also both intricately involved in the family enterprise).

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Video shows disparaging behavior by Caldwell School Board Trustees

Community members have been left feeling uncomfortable once again since a packed January 8, 2016 Caldwell School District board meeting where two trustees, Chairman Charles Stout and Vice Chairman Tom Briten, exhibited off-putting behavior. An edited version of this 3 hour 19 minute meeting in January has emerged highlighting a pattern of questionable behavior.

Caldwell School District is one of only a handful of districts statewide that video records and publicly archives board meetings. The purpose of the special board meeting last month was to review applicants and decide on replacements for two trustees recalled last November.

Unfortunately, review of film from multiple board meetings indicates that this isn’t a one-time issue of inappropriate board behavior.  While disagreement is certainly to be expected with any board, the behavior exhibited within the video demonstrates a lack of civil dialogue and professionalism that would be expected by the community’s leaders.

The three plus hour film is available to the public to watch, in full, online through the Caldwell School District YouTube account; however, an edited, bite-size synopsis of the same meeting highlighting multiple examples of poor behavior exhibited by some members of the board has also been generated.

Concerns about misbehavior at the January 8 meeting revolve around several issues. Chairman Stout and Vice Chairman Briten repeatedly attempted to prohibit fellow Trustee Travis Manning from interviewing trustee candidates.  Despite the fact that patrons testified at the meeting regarding their concern about trustee candidates’ possible involvement in the recent recall election, Stout and Briten attempt to silence Manning when he gave voice to these concerns while interviewing applicants.

For example, Lisa Bevington was a candidate that evening for appointment to one of the vacant trustee seats; she was also involved in the recall effort and collected dozens of patron signatures.  This was precisely the conflict patrons and Manning were concerned with, and why Manning was so persistent in his line of questioning to each of the trustee candidates.  Unfortunately, each time Manning attempted express this concern by asking difficult questions, other members of the board interfered with the queries.

To make this connection clear, here are copies of the petition to recall Amy Rojas: Note Lisa Bevington’s name and signature as the canvasser at the bottom of the documents indicating her involvement with the recall election.

Beyond the issue of unwarranted reticence of Manning’s questions, the general tone and demeanor of some board members clearly doesn’t meet the behavior expectations one would expect in Caldwell classroom, let alone the board room of the Caldwell School District. Talking over colleagues, making disparaging remarks, and literally threatening to end the public meeting to prevent a trustee from asking tough questions that patrons wanted answered should not be protocol for our community’s leaders.

The meeting minutes make it abundantly clear that the patrons who testified prior to the candidate interviews were concerned about transparency of candidates during the selection process; the line of questioning Manning asked was precisely related to these patrons’ concerns.  See section V on pages 1-2 for patron comments.

Caldwell School District employees and patrons deserve a professional school board. The board sets the tone for the entire district so it’s imperative they provide sustained, positive leadership; this is true not only for the employees of the district, but more importantly for the children who attend Caldwell schools and the patrons who contribute to the district.

The Caldwell School District is currently seeking applicants for its new superintendent and the misbehavior of this board leadership may put at risk attracting highly qualified superintendent applicants. According to the district website, and the January 28 ad hoc search committee agenda, the committee is currently reviewing 16 applications for superintendent.  Highly qualified applicants, and ultimately the chosen superintendent, deserve a functional board that handles disagreement with civil discourse.

The next regularly scheduled Caldwell School Board meeting is February 8, 7 p.m., 1502 Fillmore St., Caldwell.

Here is the edited video, highlighting the off-putting behavior:

Here is the original, unedited, three hour video of the board meeting:

Opposition to Tuition Proposal Looks To Divide and Label

President Washington prepares to lead troops to quell so-called "whiskey rebels"

President Washington prepares to lead troops to quell so-called “whiskey rebels”

You would think Idaho was experiencing the Whiskey Rebellion Part Two judging by some of the rhetoric shared regarding the ballot initiative to modestly increase the state’s tobacco tax to lower the cost of college and increase revenue to the state’s tobacco cessation programs.

“Liberal agenda, un-American, and unconscionable acts” are some of the words being used to describe the ballot initiative in the state’s newspapers. Continue reading

2015 Idaho Education Reviewed, and 2016 Previewed: A Teacher’s Perspective.

idahoMy glass ball didn’t do too bad of a job last year in predicting some major outcomes of the 2015 legislative session.

The major development of 2015, of course, related to the contentious tiered licensure and career ladder legislation designed to increase teacher pay while simultaneously deleting certain teacher protections in compromise for the pay bump.

While the tiered licensure plan fell through due to the nearly lockstep opposition of stakeholders, many of its components were instead simply shifted to the career ladder bill that ultimately passed.  As predicted, many measures seen potentially retaliatory to teachers such as the continued emphasis in utilizing the Danielson Model for teachers of all types (including Special Education, English Language Learners, Academy/At-Risk Teachers, etc) and Value Added Measures (VAM) are cemented under the law in determining a teacher’s rating.

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