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Court: Idaho lawmakers didn’t limit school chief’s authority

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit filed by the state’s top education official against lawmakers that accused them of limiting her authority.

The court in a 5-0 ruling Monday dismissing the lawsuit said lawmakers did not violate the Idaho Constitution when they approved two laws earlier this year transferring 18 technology workers and $2.7 million from Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s control to the state Board of Education.

Ybarra, a statewide elected official, contended lawmakers used the budgeting process to make an illegal attack on her office that prevented her from discharging her duties and unconstitutionally gave them to the board.

But the justices said the two bills signed into law by Republican Gov. Brad Little did not unconstitutionally limit Ybarra’s authority.

Instead, the court said that the board is the entity with the authority to set educational policy and is in charge of general supervision of the public school system, while Ybarra is responsible for carrying out the day-to-day policies authorized by the board.

“The Appropriation Bills at issue here do not prohibit the Superintendent from executing the policies, procedures, and duties authorized by law and the Board, nor do the Bills unconstitutionally delegate any of the Superintendent’s inherent powers to the Board,” Justice Gregory Moeller wrote for the court.

The justices also said Ybarra would still have access to the technology information.

The justices said the role of superintendent of public instruction within Idaho’s Constitution has been disputed since Idaho was a territory and persisted after Idaho became a state in 1890. The court said the core duties of the superintendent of public instruction were never clearly defined for over 150 years.

The court noted that Idaho’s public education system is run by two separate executive branch agencies: the eight-member Board of Education, on which Ybarra serves and votes as an equal member, and the Department of Education, led by Ybarra.

The justices also noted that lawmakers’ involvement in the process can lead to conflict. Ybarra said that the budget move by lawmakers was retaliation for her not supporting in 2019 legislation to revamp how show schools receive education funding. That effort had years of planning but ultimately failed.

The court didn’t consider potential motives among lawmakers for passing the budget bills, instead saying that “we recognize that not only have grave constitutional concerns been laid before us, but also allegations of legislative intrigue and retaliation. Nevertheless, we confine our analysis to the constitutional questions.”

The law transferring the 18 employees and $2.7 million takes effect July 1.

David Leroy, Ybarra’s attorney, in a statement said Ybarra appreciated that the court recognized that her office has constitutional duties lawmakers can’t undermine.

He also said that “while the decision still does not clearly define the dividing line between the superintendent’s ‘day-to-day management’ and the board’s ‘general supervision,’ we will work with this precedent to utilize the Technology Group as effectively as possible in the upcoming school year.”

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