As of Tuesday, November 28, 2017
I have always believed that the best experience is ‘On the Job Experience” and have found that being superintendent of a school district is no different. Twenty-six years of teaching, coaching and being a building principal has provided me with a tremendous amount of knowledge and firsthand experience, but this new position has created challenges that I will have to live through to understand.
Over the last nine weeks I have observed excellent teaching at all levels. Kamiah schools are lucky to have such a solid group of professionals teaching and supporting the education that is being delivered in the three buildings. Add to this group, our educational support personnel, building secretaries, janitors, cooks and bus drivers, I can assure you that the Kamiah school system is a quality system that places an emphasis on rigor and an expectation for excellence. While there is always room for improvement, the focus to move from good to great is in place.
Previous experience allows me the ability to evaluate a quality educational program, and understand the issues that come with personnel. No amount of intern hours or course work would have given me the knowledge to come to grips with the financial side of my position. While most school districts in the state find themselves doing what they can to manage state, federal and local revenue, I have discovered that our district continues to be forced to adjust to a financial freefall. The community has asked that the district spend its reserve money and do what it can to be fiscally responsible. I will tell you that from a new superintendent’s perspective, the district has listened and may have listened too well.
For example, all school districts that receive federal and state money for special education and facilities, are required to provide a “maintenance of effort.” This is a dollar amount that the districts must pay out of its general fund before any reimbursement dollars will be allocated. In this district’s case, this totals approximately $730,000. In business terms this maintenance of effort requirement would be like me bidding a job for 80 percent less than it will cost me to complete. Simply stated, the cost of doing business is far more than the income received.
The issue that we are faced with has been created through several factors: State funding that only allows money to be spent on specific programs and does not allow for operational costs, declining support from the state that creates a shift of taxation to the local share, and state and federal mandates for spending. These three areas are key to the increase in the number of school levies that support the basic operational requirements. Statewide, 93 of 149 school districts in Idaho will collect 194.7 million dollars, up 5.9 million from 16-17. While this indicates the tax shift from state to the local funding, it also indicates the support for education by most Idaho residents.
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sherri Ybarra, recently stated in an article in Idaho Ed News, “I see levies as sending a positive message about how strongly local communities value their students and rally to support education.” This same question will be put to our community in the coming months to see what value we place on providing our students the best educational opportunity possible.
By Steve Higgins, Superintendent, Kamiah Jt. School District 304