Education reform backers slam ads filmed at school

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Associated Press

Posted on October 4, 2012 at 7:04 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Education reform foes filmed a commercial inside a public elementary school in southwestern Idaho, prompting complaints Thursday from reform supporters that taxpayer-backed facilities are being improperly mixed with politics.

The Idaho Education Association on Aug. 9 filmed a portion of a campaign ad criticizing Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's reforms at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Caldwell.

The reforms are the subject of a Nov. 6 recall bid.

Small, red lettering on a sign in one scene's background indicate the commercial was filmed at "Wilson Elementary School," catching reform backers' attention — and raising their hackles. Sen. Jim Rice, a Caldwell lawmaker, contends the ads should be pulled and re-filmed without using a public school's interior as a backdrop.

"If you're going to go in and use the facilities, there are lights and other costs, even if they're minimal. You're using taxpayer resources to support the referendum," Rice said Thursday. "I don't mind using the school as a backdrop, from the outside. But the inside of our schools should be nonpartisan."

Luna's disputed reforms were approved on partisan lines during the 2011 Legislature.

Among other things, they limit teachers' collective bargaining rights, institute merit pay and eventually give a laptop to every high school teacher and student.

Democratic Rep. Brian Cronin of Boise, a political consultant leading the effort to repeal the reforms, says the ads running on his group's website were filmed during the summer break and interrupted no class time.

The young actors pictured are the children of reform opponents.

Cronin insists those crying foul over the ad's locale are ignoring that school facilities are commonly used as venues for public events, even political forums.

"As far as I know, most districts have a fairly open policy with regards to who can use their facilities," Cronin said.

Tim Rosandick, superintendent of the Caldwell School District since July 1, said he approved the Idaho Education Association's request to use the classroom. But he said neither he nor his district has taken a public position on November's ballot measures.

The sign identifying Wilson is unfortunate but inadvertent, Rosandick said.

"The most important thing is, we are a public entity," he said Thursday. "Our facilities are public facilities. Our policies set forth the use of those facilities by outside organizations. My read of our policies was, they didn't prohibit the use of the facilities for the purpose that was intended."

If reform backers had made a similar request, Rosandick said, it would have been granted, too.

According to district policy, some outside groups may be charged $30 per hour to use a Caldwell classroom.

But Rosandick said the fee typically is levied when significant additional costs are incurred, like when staff must monitor an event. That wasn't the case in this instance, he said.

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