February 23, 2011 Special Board Meeting
SPECIAL MEETING – TRUSTEE WORKSHOP OF
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF
BLAINE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 61
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2011 – 12:00 P.M.
For complete details, please watch the
streamed broadcast of the
February 23, 2011 Board meeting.
I. Call to Order and Welcome
Board Chairman Julie Dahlgren
called the Special meeting of the Board to order at 12:30 p.m.
and welcomed everyone in attendance.
Present were Board Members Dan
Parke, Steve Guthrie, Paul Bates and Kathryn Graves. Also in
attendance were Dr. Lonnie Barber, Superintendent of Schools,
John Blackman, Assistant Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer,
Mike Chatterton, School District Treasurer, Adam King, School
District Attorney, and Laurie Kaufman, Board Clerk.
Chairman Dahlgren stated that a
quorum was present.
Any Additions, Corrections, Modifications or
Substitutions to the Current Agenda
Board Member Steve Guthrie made a motion to modify agenda item
III. by adding “and Other Legislation.”
Update regarding Superintendent of Public
Instruction Tom Luna’s Plan: Students Come First, and
Other Legislation – Dr. Lonnie Barber, Superintendent of
The motion was seconded by Paul
Bates and passed unanimously.
Update regarding Superintendent of Public
Instruction Tom Luna’s Plan: Students Come First,
and Other Legislation – Dr. Lonnie Barber,
Superintendent of Schools
Please click here to view Dr.
Barber’s overview of the Idaho 2011 Legislative Session.
Please click here to view Dr.
Barber’s information regarding the Stabilization Cap.
Further Discussion: Communications Director
The Board amended the February 8, 2011 Regular Board Meeting
Agenda by striking the following Consent Agenda item in order to
further discuss it at a later date.
Approval of Personnel – Exiting and Entering
Recommending for Hire - Classified Staff
Heather Crocker, Director of Communications – District
The Board further discussed the Communications Hiring
Committee’s Recommendation. No action was taken as a
result of the discussion. Chairman Dahlgren stated that
“Approval of Communications Hiring Committee’s Recommendation”
will be moved to the Regular March Board Meeting Agenda.
Written comments were received regarding the Communications
Director prior to today’s Special Meeting of the Board.
Please click here to view public comments taken from the Minutes
of the Regular November 2010 School Board meeting, comments
received since the November meeting, and comments published in
the February 23, 2011 issue of the Mountain Express.
Don Nurge – Blaine County Resident
I think these communication issues are something that every
company faces, every school district faces. It’s an on-going
issue; it’s an on-going challenge. Everybody’s time is tight and
I understand the comments to that. I guess I have some
questions. This report came out back in September and one
comment or question would be; what has been done so far? In the
report on page 15 underneath Implementation Schedule and
Recommendations, it says quote, “It would be unrealistic to
attempt to undertake all the proposed strategies and activities
in one year. We advise district leaders to carefully consider
and prioritize those recommendations that could be implemented
immediately with the staff and resources available and
incorporate others into long range plans.” My question is, has
that been done so far? I think that’s something that has to be
done by the Trustees, by the Superintendents, to come up with a
plan. I’m not sure that that part has been done so far. In
looking at the answer that we hire a Communications Director and
everything’s taken care of and all our problems are solved. This
is communications right here, all the people here talking
amongst each other having open meetings. I think that’s where
it’s got to start and I would urge the Trustees to try to follow
this implementation timetable and the recommendations for the
next year and see what could be done by you, Minutes of February
23, 2011 Special Meeting of the Board Page 3 of 11 and then make
a decision on it, rather than to go into this in what is now
uncertain times financially, both locally and at the state
level, and just push it off a little bit to see what can be
implemented. This is a very, very comprehensive, very thorough
report with great recommendations that apply not just to
schools, but to anyone, and I would urge that the Trustees
consider doing that. Thank you.
Alex Sundali (2 comments)
Blaine County School District Board of Trustees:
In July 2009 Dr. Barber addressed the Board of Trustees and
asked you to consider a communications audit to better
understand and improve internal and external communications. The
school board elections had just resulted in 2 veteran board
members being unseated. One of the planks of the winning
candidates was the push for better District communications with
the community. The newly seated members of the board along with
the remaining 3 trustees agreed that a communications audit was
a good first step to learning how the District could better the
communications gap with stakeholders.
The audit was clear and concise in its analysis of the
strengths and weaknesses of the school districts' communications
strategies and made a number of recommendations, the most
important of which was that the District hire a Communications
This is a quote from the audit: "The most significant
overall finding from the communication audit of Blaine County
Schools is that the district has accomplished as much as it can
given its current level of investment in Communications... [I]n
order to address many of the issues outlined in the "Key
Findings and General Observations" section, it is critical to
increase the investment of time and resources in
Communication-related functions. Without it, the district is not
likely to see much improvement in the quality or quantity of
communication with its internal and external stakeholders."
The auditor went on the recommend that a CD be hired.
The argument has been made that current district personnel
can undertake the recommendations of the auditor. This argument
assumes that our current personnel are trained in
communications. They are not and the suggestion by Sheri Thomas
that the District can send personnel to "seminars and
classes...for a onetime fee" assumes that learning to be an
effective communicator and representing over 500 staff, 3000
students, and communicating with a community of over 10,000
people requires a few days of training here and there. That
suggestion has no merit and will only lead to throwing money at
a problem with no centralized plan and further undermine the
ability of the District to effectively communicate with a large
number of diverse stakeholders.
Communications is a specialized professional function and
requires exceptional skill and leadership.
Another misguided argument made by those opposed, and one
that has been the subject of escalating rumor and innuendo and
points again to the need for a communications director, is the
salary of $78 K a year for this position. If you compare this
salary to the salaries of other directors, it is low. If you
compare this salary to the salary of our certified teaching
staff, 83% of our teachers earn more. 83%.
Your superintendent came to you and asked for a
Communications Director, based on an extensive and well received
audit of the district and based on his and your experiences
trying to manage communications without the personnel to handle
the job. He realized, as did you; that the District must do a
better job communicating with all of its stakeholders and staff
and you agreed. There are no good arguments for changing your
collective minds and reneging on the decision you made in
November. For the good of our District and the good of our
community, please confirm the hire today.
The Blaine County Board of Trustees:
A high standard of ethical conduct is one of the most
important attributes we seek in a school board trustee. This
includes knowing and adhering to all relevant rules of conduct
for the office, as well as dealing appropriately with any real
or perceived conflicts of interest.
Most of us recognize that ethical standards are more
stringent than legal ones. Sometimes, though, even the ethical
standard isn't tight enough - we must also avoid the appearance
of impropriety. Although some find it frustrating, it's
essential in complex societies.
Public confidence in the school board is eroded by
irresponsible or improper conduct by school board trustees. A
trustee must avoid all impropriety and appearance of
impropriety. A trustee must expect to be the subject of constant
public scrutiny. A trustee must therefore accept restrictions on
the trustee's conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the
ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.
Trustee Bates should recuse himself from the meeting today
to avoid the appearance of impropriety. His "life partner",
Hemingway teacher Tracy Atwell, signed a letter addressed to the
school board opposing the hiring of a communications director
for the District. This presents a clear conflict of interest for
Trustee Bates and casts a shadow on the entire Board and on
these proceedings. Trustee Bates should not be at the table for
this discussion and this vote.
Thank you, Board; I really appreciate this discussion
period. As I can tell this is a discussion period over the
Communications Director; I would like to also go over two points
and I will try to be brief.
I know you amended the agenda and I’m hoping that the
amendments that you made at the very beginning which was the
additions, corrections, modifications, or substitutions to the
current agenda, meant the agenda today. Since that amendment did
not include voting for this position, I request that you follow
your additions, corrections, modifications and do not vote today
for this position.
That being said, I want to back to a few of the items. One
was a world class communicator. As we know, Heather Crocker is a
wonderful person; she works very diligently for the Education
Foundation and I love what she does for us now in that position.
A world class communicator and PR communications job
descriptions that I have seen in the past as well as talking to
numerous people in Boise at the State Legislature building;
these people have extensive degrees in communications, if
they’re hired for this position. That being said, also I want to
reiterate that at the Legislature, numerous people and districts
have gotten rid of this position as they no longer have the
funding for it. So, as your fiscal responsibility as the Board
of Trustees of this district, I really, really request that you
focus on that. I was told a year ago that there was not funding
for a Dual Immersion Coordinator at this time. A part-time
coordinator was hired. If you see it in your decision to hire a
full time Communications Director that does not directly affect
students, I would hope that you also hire a full time Dual
Immersion Coordinator, as we do seem to have funding. Also the
fiscal responsibility goes to the Audit. A great strategic plan
for the Audit was labeled and that was $14,000 spent, so I’m
hoping the implementation is also created in a fiscal
responsible way. It takes time to actually get a message
across. I understand that time is of the essence. There are
never enough hours in a day. However, if you have a
Communications Director, now what you’re saying is this person
over here needs to communicate with the Communications Director,
which then the Communications Director decides how it goes out
to the public. That is still taking up time. In fact, instead of
going from point A to point C, you have to go through point B
apparently. So, in that respect, I think what the District has
done just within the last two months is incredible for what the
communications has put out forward. As Lonnie has gone to all
the teachers explaining to them that they are in a delicate
state of losing their jobs, I don’t see how we can hire this
position. Thank you.
I never said that any teacher is in the delicate state of
losing their job; I’ve never said it once.
Mrs. Thomas, we’re going to go on to the next public
comment. I usually don’t comment on public comment, but just for
your information, we are able to move any information item on
the agenda to action; that’s Robert’s Rules of Order.
The words that I heard in the Board’s discussion were
misconception, managed backlash, shrink. How are we going to
manage public sentiment against the levy that we’re going to be
affected by every two years, peoples’ misperceptions, and
people’s perceptions? The reason we need a Communications
Director is to avoid all of this. We are inundated with
misinformation; everybody has an opinion, a viewpoint, all
valuable, all genuine, and all heartfelt, all about the
children. These are valuable but they confuse the topic, they
take up time. We find ourselves in these disagreements that
don’t move our community in a positive way and we need to do
that. We need to move this community in a positive way.
We have a woman that 22 people decided that they wanted to offer
her a job. She was the best candidate. She’s a woman who comes
from this community, she is an intelligent woman; she is able to
communicate with grace and patience and understanding. She
understands the economic reality in this community; she has been
affected by it herself.
So what we would like to do from Works of Grace Foundation; --
forgive me, I am very emotional about this, because I love our
teachers in this community, and I really feel our teachers have
been taken down-road on this subject and they haven’t been dealt
with honestly in a truthful way. My family and I were out
there on Monday on Main Street with them in support of them. We
have a scholarship program for their children; we’ve paid almost
$700,000 year to date. What I would like you to consider is that
we help with the salary of Heather. It’s only Heather, because
she understands this community. We will pay $25,000 for this
year and the next year in support of that position, because we
need this position. We need to work together as a community to
move past this. We all know this; we know we need this position.
If she is hired we will help the District with the salary
requirements. So please give it consideration, -- please.
I spoke this morning to the woman who is in charge of all
the community relations of the ten largest districts in the
state. There are only ten districts in the state that have full
time community relations staff, whether they call them community
relations or public relations, it really varies. Those ten
districts have roughly double the population that we have. We
continue to grow at anywhere between 1 ½ and 3 percent a year,
so we know that our needs continue to grow and our needs for
public relations or communications continue to grow. But if we
look at schools of our size, then none of them have a full time
public relations position. They have part time staff. It’s hard
for me to understand how schools which are double our size with
six to seven thousand students, why our population of 3,400
students, would have to have the same requirements that the
larger schools have. So I think that no matter what we do, that
compromise is an essential part, because I’ve been also down in
Boise all the last two weeks also testifying against many of the
disgusting parts of the Luna Bill, but I do know from talking
with our legislators, I’m getting emails every day, saying the
stabilization cap is probably going to get thrown out and the
reason it’s going to get thrown out is there are so many people
against it here in Blaine County. So I would be really concerned
that when the cap gets thrown out and we have to have a levy
every couple years, that those same people who are now trying to
get the stabilization cap thrown out, are going to come forward
and say, why are we hiring more administration? Why, if we are
in financial straits, do we need more administration? Which is
the second part of my question to the staff and to the Board, I
realize this is probably a question that might be answered by a
communications person. I believe there is a lot of
disinformation about the growth of the administration. I realize
that Mr. Blackman can give us statistics about what our
percentages are versus the percentage of students. But I think
what I hear over and over from people is, we’ve hired a lot more
administrators in the last ten years. When our population of
students is only going up 1 ½ to 3 percent a year, you have to
ask that question, have we been really hiring more
administrators? I have no idea, and rather than drawing it out
as a statistic, what percentage we have versus other percentages
in other schools, I think just a plain number. In one of the
other testimonies today, and I have no idea of whether it’s true
or not, well, we needed a position for dual immersion and we
couldn’t hire it. So, I do think that compromise is going to be
necessary here, especially if we look at the rest of the state.
Are our needs so much greater than other schools of our size
that we need a full time position? When I talked to the woman
this morning, she gave me a great amount of information which I
can’t cover in three minutes, about what their communication
directors do in addition to giving out public information. They
maintain websites, they help out with technology, and they do a
lot of things that are probably already being done. Only a
comment about Mr. Chatterton’s comments. All of the teachers
that I know in the District work way more than 40 hours. They
work on the weekends too; they’re out there working really hard.
We really need to look at this because the state is going to
pass some onerous bills that are really going to affect us. So
we need to look really good, because in two years we’re going to
have to raise that $29-million bucks on our own, and the only
way we can do that is to get all of the community on the right
side, and right now, if we’re hearing correctly from our
legislators, there’s a lot of people in this community that do
not think that we need that money. Thank you.
I grew up here. I went to Hemingway and graduated from Wood
River High and came back. Now I have two children, one at
Hemingway and one at the Middle School. I don’t want my kids’
teachers in classes on the weekends learning about
communication; I want someone hired to do that. I want my
teachers teaching. I want my administrators to do their jobs.
Since this communications program came up and they made their
recommendation in September, a lot of things have changed; Luna,
Roberts. There is more need now for a Communications Director
than ever. All the problems I’m hearing about are communications
problems and understanding problems. This person will help that.
It seems like every objection to this would be dealt with this
kind of person, or at least help the people do their jobs.
Please, for the kids, let the teachers teach and let’s just move
on. Thank you.
I definitely agree with what the gentleman just said. I’m
married to a teacher and I know for a fact that they work a lot
more that 40 hours a week. Not only that, they have a hundred
people a day plus take care of, wait on, serve, however you want
to say it. So their hours a day compared to their salary doesn’t
really add up and their time off in the summer is needed so that
they can come back in the fall.
I would like to say that, as I think the first speaker said,
I feel like there’s been a rush to this position since the Audit
came out. From what I’ve seen, there have been maybe slight
implementations of the recommendations that came out of the
Communications Audit. I feel that prioritizing some of those,
putting this position off a little bit longer, is more prudent.
You voted on this position in November; I came to that meeting.
There was not much discussion except among the Board Members;
there was some public comment. Once the position was hired,
there’s been more of a public outcry. I was really excited that
there was a public hearing today to be able to come and voice my
opinion about this. But if you are going to go by your vote in
November, then why did you have another public hearing, except
to let people voice their opinions and you just go ahead and do
what you were going to do anyway. What’s the point of that? In
my mind, that continues on the perception that people have about
our School Board, is that it doesn’t matter what the public
says. One of the previous speakers made a comment about Board
Member Bates, and I think you can’t have a conflict of interest
if you are a parent, and people sometimes want to say that I
have a conflict of interest because I’m married to a teacher and
that I have certain opinions. But I’m a parent first and I am a
member of this community, and that comes before any
associations. Thank you very much for holding this hearing today
but I sure hope that you garner something from it as opposed to
just already having your mind made up.
I have two kids in Blaine County Schools. My letter was
published in the Mountain Express today so I’m not going to
repeat those comments on why I think this position should be
hired. But I just want to make one additional point. We have
been talking about this issue for six months. The Audit came out
in September, we’ve had multiple public discussions both at
Board meetings and a Town Hall, so I’d just like to urge the
Board of Trustees to make a decision about this as soon as
possible because it’s desperately needed. Thank you.
Lyman Drake (2 written comments submitted for
The public image of our teachers.
Many of the emails to the Board opposing the appointment of
a communications director have come from teachers in the system.
One of the themes in these emails is that teachers can be the
District's best ambassadors. With a little communications
training they can do the job, and we won't need a communications
I urge teachers to read the barrage of anti-teacher comments
on the Express website following the article in today's paper
about Monday's demonstration in Hailey. Is this what you have
been able to accomplish as ambassadors for your profession?
Do you feel you deserve these attacks? Might your public
image be vulnerable? In tight economic times, is there a
potential for serious backlash over teachers' salaries?
Among the key responsibilities of the communications
director will be building respect and appreciation for the vital
work that our teachers perform. Our goal should be to live in a
community where everyone admires the teachers and believes they
deserve every penny they earn - and more.
From today's comments, it appears that we still have a way
to go. Do the teachers really think they can do it alone?
Is it really about putting money in the classroom?
All this fuss is about less than one tenth of one percent of
the School District's budget. Can it really be about the money?
About whether every last dollar goes directly into the classroom
today, regardless of whether it would be better to invest it in
other ways? Ways that might bring a greater long term benefit to
our school system?
I heard no such concerns -- either from the public or from
Trustees here today -- when the Board unanimously voted to spend
one hundred and fifty plus thousand dollars on a comfortable
Greyhound style bus to transport our athletes around the state.
One of the Trustees was positively gleeful about the bus. It
cost the District almost twice the annual salary of a
communications director. I am still waiting for an explanation
of how that bus money will impact the quality of our children's
On the other hand, while the immediate impact may, not be
obvious, if Ken Roberts' proposed repeal of the stabilization
cap goes through the Idaho legislature, the work done by our
communications director could have a powerful impact on life in
our classrooms. Our life blood will depend on the community's
understanding, trust, and ongoing support. Every two years we
will be waiting anxiously for voters to confirm that they want
to renew nearly $30 million of tax support for our schools.
Is it worth investing the equivalent of half a bus in
building community support for that time down the road when we
will need it most?
Isn't the answer obvious?
It's pretty clear that this dispute is not really about the
last dollar going into the classroom today. Opponents of the
appointment should ask themselves if this is the most
constructive way to express their hostility to the District
leadership. Is their opposition to the appointment really
helping our children?
Chairman Dahlgren asked the Board to consider three scenarios.
Adjourn the meeting and
resolve the issue at the next Regular Board meeting (March
Ask for a motion for
acceptance of the hiring committee’s choice for a
Communications Director, followed by a second to the motion
and a full vote.
Go into an Executive
Session of the Board pursuant to Idaho Code 67-2345(1)(a) to
consider hiring a public officer, employee, staff member or
individual agent, wherein the respective qualities of
individuals are to be evaluated in order to fill a
particular vacancy or need.
This paragraph does
not apply to filling a vacancy in an elective office or
deliberations about staffing needs in general.
School District Attorney Adam King advised the Board not to go
into Closed Executive Session to discuss staffing needs in
general, as stated in Idaho Code 67-2345(1)(a).
The Board discussed the options presented and agreed to bring
“Approval of Communications Hiring Committee’s Recommendation”
back to the Regular March 8th Board Meeting agenda.
There being no further business to discuss, Board Member Dan
Parke made a motion to adjourn the meeting. The motion was
seconded by Steve Guthrie and passed unanimously. The Special
Meeting of the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees
was adjourned at 2:35 p.m.