Click for the latest Bonners Ferry weather forecast.
Print Version

Home   News   Sports   Social   Obituaries   Events   Letters
Looking Back     Health Jewels

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 everything.

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 control.

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 program.'"

This isn't, he said, a teacher's school district, nor a principal's nor his, but ours, a community's.

"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 bad."

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 worrisome.

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 total education?'"

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 days."

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 critical.

Polls in this election are open right now, and voting absentee has never been easier.

Visit the county election website to learn more about voting. To learn more about this issue, the figures and why they matter, Click here.

No matter what you do Conley said; VOTE!

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."
Questions or comments about this letter? Click here to e-mail!