Zone 4 Mountain View School District 244 trustee Mike Dominguez of Kooskia found himself in a defensive mode the day before the school district levy last Monday, March 7.
Dominguez put out an e-mail and messages to as many people as he could – mainly those within his zone – to not only ask for support for the levy, but also to diminish flames fanned by fellow board member Casey Smith of Clearwater, who represents zone 2.
According to a number of calls and messages to the Free Press, Smith delivered letters to various people in the Clearwater-Kooskia-Kamiah areas urging them to “please vote against the levy on Tuesday, March 8.”
When contacted Monday, March 14, Smith said he handed out about 70 fliers.
“It was a shot across the bow,” he said. “It was a last-minute decision to oppose the levy publicly.”
Smith gave out a two-sided sheet of paper with his letter on one side and a MVSD 244 financial document on the other. The financial document listed forest fund cash reserves as well as an entire list of scholarship funds the district manages. Smith penciled on this section, bracketing the accounts, and wrote, “savings.”
According to district records, the school district does not own the money listed in the scholarships funds, they simply manage the accounts and are stewards of those monies. The district distributes these funds each year as the scholarship recipients are named.
Smith said he made the decision to openly oppose the levy when a constituent spoke to him about it.
“She had not seen much about it and wondered if we were even having a levy,” he said. “She then called the superintendent and he took a tone with her because she questioned the levy.”
Smith was the only board member who voted against running the $2,663,246 supplemental levy election at the Dec. 15, 2015, board meeting. He had expressed that he wanted to use part of the forest fund reserves as an alternative.
The letter he distributed stated, in part:
“Kamiah refuses to do a levy. Does the school still operate? Yes. Do their buses still run, Yes. Are their schools still heated? Yes. Do they still have sports? Yes. Are the children still educated? Yes.” [sic]
According to MVSD enrollment records, in the past two years, Kooskia schools have received about 60 new students who were former Kamiah Joint School District 304 attendees. Kamiah patrons voted no on a $133,350 plant facilities levy March 8, one of many failed levy attempts in the past decade. The money from this levy was meant to replace a leaky roof at the middle school.
In his message, Dominguez said, “we [MVSD 244] already take $1.1 million from this [forest] fund which is more than we receive annually. Simple math will tell you that our reserve will be gone very soon and we will not be able to reduce the levy at all.”
“Those forest funds were originally meant to be used for the building of facilities as well as acquiring properties,” said MVSD 244 superintendent Kent Stokes. “For many years now, the board has operated on the theory it is best to spend a little of that money at a time.”
Stokes said he doesn’t know of a successful business that operates paycheck to paycheck.
“We are using some of those funds for much needed maintenance,” he said. “When a roof leaks or a parking lot is destroyed over time, insurance doesn’t cover that. It’s up to us as good stewards of our district and its facilities to keep them maintained.”
“We are currently playing catch-up on some of this maintenance that was neglected throughout the years,” he added. “We use the forest funds for this and it does not come out of the educational funds.”
Stokes said he is disappointed in an attempt to thwart the levy at such a late date, leaving the district no time to respond to any patron concerns or questions. The levy election narrowly passed: 50.5 percent in favor.
Dominguez ended his e-mail with, “We have come to far since the last time a levy failed and would hate to think what our schools would be like without your support.”
Smith said he didn’t appreciate Dominguez’s letter or the fact it basically “called me a liar.”
“The board needs to come to terms with someone who might not agree 100 percent with what Mr. Stokes wants,” he said. “Look how close this levy came to not passing – and I only campaigned against it for about an hour. They [the board] need to learn to negotiate with those who have a different point of view.”
Smith was elected to the MVSD 244 board and signed the oath of office in July 2015. A signed Idaho School Boards Association code of conduct is on file for each school board member except Smith. Other board members are Lot Smith, chair (zone 1), Rebecca Warden (zone 3), Sally Nolan (zone 5) and Dominguez.
Number five on the code of conducts list reads, “Recognize that decisions are made by a majority vote and the outcome should be supported by all board members.”
Dominguez said on Monday, March 14, he has no problem with explaining his decisions and invites patrons to attend upcoming board meetings.
The next meeting of the board is set for Monday, March 21, 5:30 p.m., at the Grangeville district office.