Removed From Idaho Education Task Force, One Member Cries Foul

Apr 2, 2014

Education Improvement Task Force members at a public meeting last year. Mike Lanza (left) sits next to Rodger Brown, the governor's deputy chief of staff.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

A member of Idaho’s 'Task Force for Improving Education' has been kicked out of the group. Mike Lanza says he was told it was because he went to work for Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Democratic challenger.

Mike Lanza co-founded the group 'Idaho Parents and Teachers Together' which led the push to overturn a package of education laws in 2012. Otter asked the State Board of Education to create a task force for making recommendations to replace those laws, known as Students Come First. Lanza and 30 other people from many education groups were appointed.

This week, task force chairman and state board member Richard Westerberg told Lanza he was out because he had accepted a job as communications director for A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign.

Lanza sees this as retribution from the governor’s office. He believes the state board acted according to Otter’s wishes. State board members are gubernatorial appointees.  

“It is the governor’s task force but as the governor stated when he formed it, the purpose of the task force was to bring together different interests, stakeholders and people with different ideas,” Lanza says. “The objective of the task force was never to only bring together people who were political allies of the governor.”

A spokesman for the governor sent a written statement which reads, “The Governor and the Board expressed concern that the Task Force should not be used as a political platform. We believe politics should be kept out of this process.”

State Board of Education Spokesperson Marilyn Whitney says Lanza’s participation in Balukoff’s campaign distracts from the task force’s mission.

“That’s the concern, is that it continue to be a productive process without a lot of distractions, and having the stakeholder groups participate and not focus on individuals,” Whitney says.

Whitney also says the task force finished most of its work last year when it turned in its recommendations for improving Idaho schools. Now, a few subcommittees continue to work on fleshing out the recommendations and Whitney says all original members are not needed.

Lanza says he was asked to serve on one of those subcommittees prior to joining Balukoff’s campaign. The subcommittees include members of the original task force and others who were not part of the group that drafted the recommendations. Several Idaho lawmakers sit on those subcommittees. Some are currently running for reelection.

Whitney says 'Idaho Parents and Teachers Together' is welcome to appoint someone else to take Lanza’s committee seat.

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