GRANGEVILLE Funding concerns, educational needs and Common Core questions were all part of a community forum held Monday night, Feb. 13, at the Grangeville Senior Citizens Center.
A panel of three local school superintendents presented overviews of their schools as part of a forum sponsored by the Idaho County Democrats, and more than 65 people attended the event to listen and ask questions.
“We have a very supportive community,” said Joint School District 243 Superintendent Jim Doramus. “We are graduating our 10th class this year since becoming an independent district.”
Doramus said the district declined in enrollment for several years, dropping to a low of 103 students in K-12 three years ago, but for the past couple of years has held steady at 125. When Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Program (Head Start) pulled out of Riggins, he said the district took on the responsibility of a preschool and has about 20 students enrolled each year.
“We really started focusing on technology as a district,” Doramus went on. This included establishing a solid infrastructure for Internet service and the use of iPads, desk top computers and laptops.
He explained the district utilizes a lot of online curriculum so material is constantly updated. He added 100 percent of Salmon River high school students take IDLA (Idaho Digital Learning Academy) courses and 64 of students take dual-credit courses.
“I’ve been in education for more than 35 years and I have been in both large and small districts,” Doramus said. “I am impressed with our staff who spend many extra hours focusing on the needs pf our students.”
He explained SRJSD 243 is looking into gun policy as part of a larger overall safety plan.
“Because we are rurally isolated, we have had all our staff certified in CPR first aid,” he said. The staff has taken active shooter training and are trained in the use of pepper spray.
Superintendent Renee Forsmann of Cottonwood Joint District 242 said the district’s overall general budget is $3.6 million with 82 percent of that in salaries and benefits. Of that, 13 percent are insurance costs, which she said are unpredictable from year to year.
“We will most likely ask for a $350,000 supplemental levy again this year,” she said. This money helps pay for utilities, janitorial, subs, activity costs and technology.
“People are what make things happen, and we have a great staff and community,” she said.
Forsmann said about 35 percent of the Prairie schools staff are graduates Prairie High School.
“It can be very beneficial to ‘grow your own,’” she said.
She explained CJSD 242 has won several awards and has many programs going for it, including the Professional Technical Academy which is a school unto itself and offers five online medical courses. A Prairie teacher instructs the courses and about 300 students from across the state are enrolled in the classes which allow high school students to get a jump start on college medical classes and even become a CNA (certified nursing assistant) while still in high school.
Forsmann said federal forest funds have helped the district to complete some remodeling and renovation projects, including when the district consolidated from three to two buildings and placed the junior high students in the basement of the high school building. Forest funds were at a high in 2008-09 with $631,049, and $354,994 in 2015-16.
“Our board really cares our students,” said Mountain View School District 244 Superintendent Kent Stokes. “And the issue of safety has been on their minds.”
Stokes said the district’s much-discussed gun policy is just one way to try to provide a safer learning environment, but cameras and door locks have also been installed.
Stokes talked about the difficulty of recruiting and retaining new teachers when Idaho is lower on the pay scale than neighboring states, as well as the need to continue to offer programs, courses and activities that students engaged and busy.
He explained MVSD 244 has also utilized forest funds for continued building maintenance.
“I have had people asked if we need new schools and I say no,” he said. “We can learn just as well in the buildings we have, but we just need keep them up.”
Stokes said his district will ask for a $2.6 million levy again in March and said most Idaho schools will hold levies out of necessity.
“Our district is at a bit of a handicap because of the locations of our schools,” he said. “The overall district numbers may show we need one chemistry teacher, but that teacher cannot be in Grangeville and Kooskia at the same time.”
Moderator Bobbi Bodine read several audience questions that been written down on index cards.
“What could we do if sports were removed from our schools?” Bodine read.
Forsmann answered that high school games are “important community social events.”
“Kids need these activities to help make them well-rounded,” she said. “I would be afraid of what our classrooms would look like without activities.”
“There are kids who simply would drop out,” he said. “It’s a legitimate funding question, but at what cost do you remove sports?”
Doramus added sports encourages students to keep their grades up.
“They have to maintain a C average play, so it’s a incentive,” he stated.
Patron Maryanne Blees of Clearwater she understands activities are crucial.
“But why when a levy does not pass are they always the first thing to be cut?” she asked.
“There only so much discretionary income that isn’t earmarked and mandated specific use,” Stokes answered.
Audience members asked about what would be beneficial to write or call legislators about. A card with local media and contact information for legislators was provided by the Idaho County Democrats
“Schools are underfunded and the funding formula is not equitable for rural schools,” Stokes said. “I wish we had more discretionary funds we could use in the way our district and board see best.”
Common core, safety planning, the new secretary of education in Washington, D.C., and Secure Rural Schools Funding were all discussed.
Patron Garry Seloske encouraged the superintendents to encourage their boards to impress the importance of equitable and adequate funding on the county commissioners who should, in turn, bring those concerns to the legislature.
Audience member Herman Yates, who is a former superintendent and is a member of the Kamiah Joint School District 304 board, stood and spoke at the end of the meeting.
“These local people just don’t have much control with what they do with the state and federal funds,” he said. “Kamiah couldn’t pass a levy to repair a roof so I doubt we’ll run one this year as it doesn’t look like it would have much hope of passing.”
“I really honor these people working with our kids in the schools because it’s not an easy job.”