Few turn out to question M&O
February 19, 2013
By Mike Weland
Ten minutes before 6 p.m. today, with six school
district officials on stage, the Becker
Auditorium at Bonners Ferry High School, the
venue for a public information meeting on the
upcoming $1.4-million, two-year School District
101 Maintenance and Operations Levy, was packed
with two people, both of them reporters.
At 6 p.m., the crowd had swelled to 12 people.
As school board chair Melanie Staples opened the
special meeting, a few more people wandered in,
bringing the total to just over 20. Most of them
teachers and district employees.
"As a board, we want to be open and
transparent," Staples said. After a few opening
comments, during which she unequivocally stated
that the board had no intention of closing more
schools and that the recent closure of Riverside
High School was a decision all but forced by
state requirements, she opened the floor to
school superintendent Dick Conley, who ran
through the litany of facts and figures as to
why the M&O is needed, a sad tale little changed
in years of reduced state and federal funding,
added unfunded mandates, the rising cost of
He didn't come into his own, however, until that
part of the presentation ended.
"I don't see good times ahead unless the state
(economy) recovers and starts funding," he said.
Rather than trying to explain the arcane formula
by which public schools in Idaho are funded, or
try to explain the Byzantine logic behind it, he
cited Idaho Code 33512(2), which sets forth in
the simplest terms the most important and
fundamental duty and obligation of a local
school board, a mandate not dependent on
politics or funding, yet inextricably bound to
both those factors, and both beyond their
The duty of the board, it reads, is to "to adopt
and carry on, and provide for the financing of a
total education program for the district."
The federal and state governments both determine
and establish what a "basic" education is,
though they don't provide full funding even for
that; establishing requirements by which to
measure and confer graduation, setting standards
that are required for schools to attain and
maintain accreditation, from kindergarten on, to
measure student progress.
No matter the outcome of the March 12 levy
election, or even a likely second levy election
should the first fail, Conley said, the board
will continue to live up to its obligation ...
what would have to change is the communities
idea how a "total education program" is defined.
"If our attempts to pass a supplemental levy
ultimately fail," he said, "we will still open
our doors to students next fall, we will still
have teachers to greet them. But what we will be
able to offer may not resemble what the
community considers 'a total education
This isn't, he said, a teacher's school
district, nor a principal's nor his, but ours, a
"We all like it when things go well, as when our
girls place fourth at state," he said. "As a
community, we also have to accept when things go
He made no threats as to any program cuts, he
made no dire predictions. If the levies fail, he
said, it will be left largely to the community
to come up with a new definition.
"Everything will be taken under consideration,"
he said. "We'll ask the community what cuts will
be made and where, we'll look at other school
districts and what they've done to cope. We'll
have to get creative, decide together what stays
and what goes."
There is a new factor this election cycle,
though, one that makes the evening's low turnout
In years past, the school board could seemingly
run election after election, paring down the
levy amount time and again until voters, stirred
by the stark reality of actually losing programs
like Badger sports, arts and drama, of letting
go of teachers until an an unspoken agreement
was reached ... "What is our definition of 'a
Those opposed could whittle down, those who
proposed could concede in a derring do parley, a
hard-fought agreement by the community, fought
tooth and nail at the ballot box.
This year's election is not like those of years
past; but set by the state legislature under the
Idaho Consolidated Election Act; instead of the
school district setting up its own polls, voters
in this election will be going to polls set up
by the county, on dates specified by the sate.
By law, the district can run the election again,
if it fails the first time, and Conley has no
compunction against trying twice.
"If it doesn't pass in March, run it again." he
said. "The law allows it and it gives us the
opportunity to stress again the importance. I
don't think we would have a choice."
By state law, the board can re-run the Levy May
21, when voters will be going to the polls to
elect school district trustees, and, if they so
choose, they can run it again in August .. but
by then it could well be too late for a change
of the voter's mind.
"Football practice will have started by then,
volleyball practice will be starting in a few
Worse, the district budget for the year had been
due the state by the end of June, teacher's
contacts set ... it is likely, district clerk
Diane Cartwright said, that they would base that
budget on the prospect the levy passed; it's
easier, she said, to deduct rater than add. If
passed in August, though, the teachers and
programs would already have been written off,
and once gone, hard to bring back.
They had a supportive crowd to talk to tonight,
and Mr. Conley stressed that there is a lot of
work to be done, not to sway the vote, but to
get out the vote ... to let people know that
this time, it's going to count. Instead of
telling people how to vote, he said, getting
people to recognize the importance of voting is
Polls in this election are open right now, and
voting absentee has never been easier.
county election website to learn
more about voting. To learn more about this
issue, the figures and why they matter,
No matter what you do Conley said;
If you or your organizations have questions or
want to learn more, he and members of the school
board, he said, are ready to talk; call (208)
267-3146, Extension 1.
"It's not a school choice this election day,"
Conley said, "it's a community choice of what we
want our schools to offer."
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