In an interview with IdahoReporter.com, Democrat Stan Olson, running against Republican Tom Luna for the state superintendent of public instruction position, said that he wants to develop a comprehensive plan to improve Idaho's public schools and find ways to increase parental involvement in education. Olson, who is Idaho’s highest-paid superintendent, defended his salary, saying that his school board based the decision on a market-based business model.
Olson said that feels the race for the state superintendent of public instruction has become too politicized over the years. He explained that Democratic officials approached him and asked him to run for the position under their banner, even though he has donated to and voted for Republicans and Democrats in past years. He said that education in the state should be based on educational and business experience, and not on political ideology. If elected, he said he would urge lawmakers to find a way to de-politicize the superintendent election.
In a stump speech to delegates gathered at the convention, Olson said that Luna lacks a plan for education policy in the state of Idaho. Olson told IdahoReporter.com that if he prevails over incumbent Luna in November, he will immediately go to work to evaluate the resources of the state's education system and find areas in which improvement is needed. He touted his own survey conducted within the Boise School District, over which he presides as superintendent, which received 23,000 responses from staffers, students, and community members on how to improve education and maximize efficiencies.
Some Idaho lawmakers believe consolidation of some of the state's districts will bring added savings from reductions in administration. Olson said that he is willing to engage in discussions about the idea, but refused to say if he is personally in support of or opposed to the idea. According to literature of the field, as he put it, district consolidation, or combining districts with close geographic proximity, isn't as cost-efficient as some would lead the public to believe. Olson said that when districts are consolidated, unanticipated costs prevent governments and schools from realizing a real large amount of savings. Communities often oppose district consolidation because they fear local control of their schools will be taken from parents and families, Olson said.
During the 2010 legislative session, Idaho lawmakers cut more than $120 million from schools in the state. Olson said that if elected, he will urge lawmakers to stabilize education funding. He said that if there need to be personnel cost reductions that must happen as a result of the cuts, he will communicate with teachers the severity of the situation. That, he believes, will make teachers more willing to come to the bargaining table and sacrifice for the good of students and the school. If teachers aren't involved in cost-cutting measures, Olson said, they are less amenable to changes.
Ron Nilson, CEO of Ground Force Manufacturing in Post Falls, told lawmakers early this year that the state must do more to integrate professional-technical programs within public schools. Olson agreed with Nilson, and said that the state must prepare students for whatever may come their way, whether it is a career, a two-year community college, professional-technical training, or a four-year degree and beyond.
State Reps. Branden Durst, D-Boise, and Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, co-sponsored a bill which will allow students to graduate early from high school and receive a state-funded scholarship for doing so. Olson said that he will recommend that the Boise School District jump into the program, which is a six-year pilot project. He believes that some students are naturally more mature and able to process information than other students, which allows them to advance more quickly through schooling. Olson feels that as education continues to evolve and morph and become more efficient, students will no longer advance simply due to age, but will rather advance only when they master subject matter.
Parents are involved with education when they feel invited by school officials, said Olson. Parental involvement is critical to the success of the students, believes Olson, and he wants parents of older students to be a part of the education experience of children where appropriate. He doesn't believe that parents should dictate how or what teachers teach, but said that he feels that parents must take interest in their children's school and show support when they can.
Olson is the highest-paid district superintendent in the state at a rate of $171,000 per year. Olson defended that salary, only a day after telling delegates at the convention that teacher pay starts at less than $30,000 a year, which he said the state must increase. He said that for a district the size of the Boise School District, he is underpaid when compared to some top administrators in California. Additionally, he said that the Boise school board based his contract on a business model which measured his success. His compensation and wage increases, Olson said, were also tied to increases of pay for teachers in his district. In his many years in the position, he said he has not received one public complaint from a district employee about his high pay grade.