Gov. Brad Little just named Boise businessman Kurt Liebich to the State Board of Education, replacing Richard Westerberg of Preston.
That means four of the seven gubernatorial appointees on that panel live in Ada County.
Besides Liebich, they are:
l Linda Clark of Meridian.
l David Hill of Boise.
l Andrew Scoggin of Boise.
Filling out the group are:
l Debbie Critchfield of Oakley.
l Emma Atchley of Ashton.
l Shawn Keough of Sandpoint. The former veteran state senator was appointed to succeed another Panhandle representative on the board, Don Soltman of Twin Lakes and formerly of Coeur d’Alene.
Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home also sits on the board by virtue of her election as the state’s public schools superintendent.
Does Ada County deserve half of the votes on a board that sets policy from kindergarten to doctorate programs?
However big Ada County is, it’s not that big.
Even with growth in overdrive, it has about 26 percent of Idaho’s population.
Boise, West Ada and Kuna school districts account for about 25 percent of the students attending class in Idaho’s traditional school districts. Throw in the charter schools and the county’s share of public school enrollment comes to 26 percent.
Expansion at Boise State University notwithstanding, Ada County has about one-third of the full-time enrollment at Idaho’s four-year institutions. The rest are scattered among University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College and Idaho State University.
By law, the state Transportation Board is divided among six administrative districts. North central Idaho’s representative is former Lewiston City Manager Jan Vassar.
Likewise, the Fish and Game Commission has members from seven regional areas. Bradley Melton of Lewiston serves north central Idaho.
The State Board of Education is not bound to follow regional diversity. The governor is free to select anyone he chooses. But only recently has traditional geographic equity been abandoned.
Until former Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter replaced Bill Goesling of Moscow — who now serves in the House of Representatives — with Scoggin three years ago, the region had a voice at the table. Among those who served were former House Speaker Tom Boyd, R-Genesee; veteran legislator Mike Mitchell of Lewiston, Colleen Mahoney of Lewiston, Roy Mosman of Moscow, A.L. “Butch” Alford Jr. of Lewiston and Paul Agidius of Moscow.
It only makes sense.
How can someone from Boise — or even Sandpoint — understand the challenges facing this corner of Idaho?
What do they know about trying to stimulate growth rather than managing it?
Who is supposed to take the phone calls from UI and LCSC?
Do they recognize how difficult is it to recruit and retain a teacher in Idaho when the rewards of working in nearbyWashington state are so much greater?
What do they know about operating a four-day schedule in Riggins, Orofino and Culdesac?
Do they understand the challenges facing Kamiah schools, which having failed to pass a supplemental property tax levy, now rely on what the Legislature is willing to provide?
Granted, Little did reach out to this region once when he offered the post to Lewiston School Board President Brad Rice last summer. Unable to reconcile the time demands of the post with his family, his business and the school board, Rice declined.
But is the governor saying he could not find one other suitable person from these five counties before he recruited another Boise businessman?
What about those who answered the governor’s invitation to apply last June — such as former UI Vice President of Finance Lloyd Mues or former Moscow City Councilor Walter Steed?
Since Little favors members of his “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” task force for these slots — both Keough and Liebich served on it — why not consider people from this area? Among those could have been Genesee School Board Chairwoman Jennifer Parkins or Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Goverment Affairs Director Matt Van Vleet?
And if they were not available, was there no one from Lewiston, Moscow, Grangeville, Orofino or the outlying areas who served as a school administrator, worked within higher education, served in public office or business who had the special blend of qualities and judgment Little was seeking?
Steeped in policy and Idaho history, Little is not blind to how his decision will be received. In fact, it’s difficult to not see it as evidence that in the mind of the governor — or at least those he is listening to — the region between Boise and the Panhandle is politically irrelevant.
It has become Idaho’s flyover country. — M.T.