While it’s not required by law, Idaho governors tended to provide all corners of the state with a seat on the State Board of Education.
That’s how north central Idaho wound up being served by such state board members as Butch Alford, Mike Mitchell and Colleen Mahoney of Lewiston, Tom Boyd of Genesee, Roy Mosman and Paul Agidius of Moscow.
Three years ago, that went out the window when then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter replaced Bill Goesling of Moscow — who has since been elected to the state House of Representatives — with Andrew Scoggin of Boise.
Now Ada County has three seats on the board — Scoggin, David Hill of Boise and Linda Clark of Meridian. Joining them are Emma Atchley of Ashton, Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, Richard Westerberg of Preston and state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home, who holds a seat by virtue of her election rather than gubernatorial appointment.
Don Soltman of Twin Lakes is the only northern Idahoan serving on that board. And both he and Westerberg are on their way out. Their terms expire on June 30.
It’s up to Gov. Brad Little to name their successors.
Here’s a chance for Little to restore balance on the board by naming someone who can articulate north central Idaho’s unique culture. Having no such voice on the state board was apparent three years ago during its tone-deaf attempt to outlaw the consumption of alcoholic beverages during tailgating parties at University of Idaho football games.
But it goes beyond that.
Someone who has never driven north of McCall might not appreciate what it’s like to compete for faculty, staff and students with better funded schools and institutions of higher learning just across the state line in Washington .
Someone who has not crossed the Salmon River may not fully appreciate the niche that Lewis-Clark State College fills.
Someone living in the Mountain Time Zone might not appreciate how the UI predates statehood or that the state board is specifically designated as the land grant institution’s Board of Regents.
You could argue, of course, that seats on the state board should go where the people and the votes are — from the sprawling urban centers of the Treasure Valley or even the growing communities in the Magic Valley and eastern Idaho.
That might be politically prudent.
Do that, however, and you turn a blind eye to communities, schools and students who live in an economy not driven by high-tech or irrigated agriculture but natural resources, tourism and farming.
Do that and you miss the rural school districts struggling to get by on limited funds and four-day weeks.
Do that and you neglect communities such as Grangeville, Orofino and Potlatch that have felt left behind while the fruits and pitfalls of rapid growth transform portions of Ada County into a replica of southern California.
Do that and you ignore the slice of the state that looks to Spokane as its economic and media center — much as eastern Idaho gravitates toward Salt Lake City.
Do that and you disenfranchise people who may be inclined to give their local state board member a piece of their mind, but never say a word to a stranger.
Do that and you suggest that throughout an entire swath of Idaho, there is nobody with the vision or the brains to help direct education policy for the entire state.
Do that and you aggravate the sense of grievance at the UI as resources, enrollment and prestige flow to Boise State University. Lacking a voice on the state board only feeds anxiety, well-founded or not, that the state board is just fine with this .
None of this is news to Little, a native Idahoan and UI graduate. He knows it does no good to give the Panhandle’s seat to north central Idaho or vice versa. Restoring the state board’s traditional regional balance is not asking too much. That would leave southern Idaho with six of eight seats on the state board.
Isn’t that enough? — M.T.