The Department of Administration is here today and they seem nervous. Mr. Gwartney started by talking about consolidating phone services. I have to question my ears but I'm pretty sure he said: "The Governor has to dial 12 digits to get my office --and that's OK as long as he doesn't forget them." Not a helpful comment from the Governor's best friend given the difficult political environment the Governor faces. One has to wonder if there isn't a bit of friction there.
Gwartney's staff described to us the huge lovely technology bureaucracy they hope to create where state agencies lose their IT staff and those staff positions go to build Mike Gwartney's empire. Even our good co-chairman of JFAC expressed less than enthusiasm. "Candidly," he said, "I have a lack of confidence in the ability to deliver services --based on past experience." It seems that the Department of Finance and the Department of Insurance have not gotten what they were promised in retaining the specialized technology they need to do their work.
In case anyone has forgotten, Governor Otter & Mike Gwartney initially proposed eliminating the Department of Administration to improve the efficiency of Idaho Government. That plan was revised. The Governor and Gwartney decided instead it would be more efficient for the state not to eliminate it but to make it really huge and all powerful.
The discussion turned to creating "IEN" or the Idaho Education Network, an empire in school broad band connectivity run by, as the Governor has introduced them, his good friends at Qwest. All the little providers whose infrastructure could be improved with state funds will instead be replaced by Qwest. A few medium providers I think stay in place. So far no mention of the law suit that challenges the Department of Admin's rejecting a lower bid proposal to go with Qwest. We are told the ongoing costs of the project -- the millions in state and federal dollars to Qwest -- is sustainable because the state can apply for grants to cover its part. I recall the Governor telling state entities not to rely on or even apply for grants because grants often vanish, leaving programs unfunded.
But we are supposed to be excited that we can fire math teachers and not worry about the field trips kids don't get anymore because there are virtual field trips and people and programs far off on computer screens who will teach math.
Call me odd but I know I've always had students who needed to learn something in a different way, where I as a teacher had to be creative and ask questions to figure out how they think and how they might best understand something. How will a computer program know when that needs to happen? How will the screen know when a kid's eyes are filling with tears because she is confused or overwhelmed or scared because she knows she doesn't understand and someone needs to stop, take her by the hand and pick up an arm full of blocks, draw circles or draw pictures on paper to help her through it -- to make sure kids don't fall behind or give up or melt down. Not all children think or learn the same and we will always need multiple ways to teach and a real person there to look the kids in the eye.
I think of our experience here with the keys to our office doors. The statehouse was opening and we were moving in but there were no keys for our office doors. We were putting files and photos and things on and in our desks and people were filing through the building day and night. Some creative high school kids even had a party somewhere in a senate room. We couldn't get Admin to send us keys. Secretaries for the ProTem and Majority leader couldn't lock their offices and files. It took forever. The Department of Admin was far away and didn't see that it mattered. Time passed and passed.
How about the part time employees, who, with a Mike Gwartney pen stroke, were required to pay hundreds of dollars more in health insurance premiums? Who was there looking in the eyes of those Idaho employees? Who was thinking about the consequences of this to those families and to the economy and state? The state is not a business with no other interest than advancing its own personal fiscal well being. We are also charged with advancing the Idaho economy, bettering the lives of Idaho families, making sure we retain and respect skilled and valued state workers.
But no, here we are today contemplating allowing Governor Otter to create this huge, impersonal and uncaring all pervasive entity, an empire of administration. Is this the future of our state? Is that Butch Otter's vision of government?