GRANGEVILLE More than 75 people gathered at the Grangeville High School library Monday night, March 21, for the regular Mountain View School District 244 board meeting.
Bringing out the crowd – up from the usual two or three spectators – were several agenda items including a possible district gun policy, splitting the district, and last minute levy opposition by trustee Casey Smith, Clearwater, zone 2.
Superintendent Kent Stokes started off by addressing a letter from Maryanne Blees of Clearwater.
“[It stated] I said ‘if the levy doesn’t pass we will be okay.’ I own that statement,” he said. “It’s like with my car – I have four good tires. If one gets a flat, I can put the spare on. It’s not meant for long distances, but it will get us around for a while. Without a levy we could last a little while, but eventually that spare has to be replaced or you won’t have a car.”
Stokes also addressed the compensation packages of MVSD 244 employees.
“We are competing with other schools, and for some very difficult to fill positions,” he said. “I consider it the cost of doing business. And our teachers are not getting rich.”
“Our country is in turmoil – just turn on the TV,” Stokes added. “If you want to see things change for the better this isn’t the time to be cutting education. We need an educated populous.”
Since public records being properly placed on-line was also in question, district business manager Becky Hogg went over the district web site, giving directions on how to find items such as teacher contracts, expenditures and employee salaries, all of which are listed at www.sd244.org.
“Idaho code requires we publish a number of items,” she explained.
“The current contracts were not on the web site,” interrupted Casey.
Trustee Rebecca Warden, zone 3, reminded him to address chair, Lot Smith, Grangeville, zone 1.
“I can only tolerate this for so long,” Casey said. “I have not been able to find several things on-line. They are not there.”
This was met by several audience members – many teachers and administrators and their spouses – who said the information is there as they access it regularly.
“Everything is public information – we’re not hiding anything,” Lot emphasized.
Blees, in attendance at the meeting, asked why the district audit is not on the web site.
“It isn’t one of the requirements, so we simply haven’t placed it there, but it has always been available at the district office,” Hogg said.
“It’s something we can do,” Lot added.
Blees and a woman sitting beside her asked about monthly financial reports and requested more details.
“That’s why I feel you elected me,” said Mike Dominguez of Kooskia, zone 4. “I go through these with a fine tooth comb and ask questions.”
Blees questioned past expenses including the repairing of the track at Grangeville High School.
“Was that necessary?” she inquired.
“It was at a point where it was either repair it or tear it up,” Lot said. “It was a safety issue as well, with huge cracks and chunks breaking loose.”
When Blees made the comment, “It’s like you aren’t even trying to tighten your belts,” the room erupted in laughter.
“How can you say we’re not living within a budget when we’ve asked for the same levy amount each year for four years – even when the prices of everything are steadily rising?” trustee Warden asked.
When an unidentified audience member said, “you didn’t tell us what the [levy] money was for,” Lot spoke up.
“Both of you [including Blees] have asked why we didn’t hold public meetings to discuss the levy this year,” he said. “We used to do that. At Grangeville, no one came. Zero. At Kooskia, one person. We even drove all the way to Elk City because we feel the handful of kids there are important. When no one attended the meetings, we thought you must have gotten it. You understood what the money was going for.”
“What does the levy pay for?” repeated Stokes. “A lot of our teachers. We are 7.8 positions over what the start will pay for and we’re still understaffed.” Stokes explained the state may pay for one teacher for 30 chemistry students, but does not take into account 20 students are in Grangeville and 10 are in Kooskia.
Board members urged patrons to talk to their legislators about the under-funding of education.
“I don’t like taxes either,” Dominguez said. “But what other avenues do we have? Don’t beat us up over this. Take the fight to the state.”
Lot explained the board has taken the position to reduce a levy amount each year with a portion of the forest fund receipts and tackle a list of district-wide maintenance projects with some of the funds as well.
“As elected officials, we’re trying to be prudent,” he said. “I don’t want to be like our neighbors who have to get on their knees and beg for $100,000 to fix a leaky roof and still cannot get it. It’s a disgrace.”
Hogg explained the actual forest receipts are about $45,000 for the year and the remainder $1 million is the “welfare portion.” That is the portion lawmakers allowed for a period of time to make up for the deficit in the funds from what was received in previous years.
“And that portion, those payments, end with this 2015-16 school year,” Hogg said, and no one knows if they could be re-authorized.
Lot went on to explain in a district MV’s size, it is fiscally responsible of the board to hold back some funds for future needs.
“We don’t want to go down the path where we don’t maintain our facilities and they end up condemned like happened in Orofino,” he said. “Right now our parking lots at Clearwater Valley and Grangeville high schools are a disgrace and have been at least as long as I have been on the board – eight or nine years.”
Lot emphasized this year those parking areas will be repaired.
“Poe [Asphalt] will be in town working on the airport, gas prices are still fairly low – the time is now,” he said. “We’re trying to be good stewards and do that best we can with what we have.”