Nampa teachers bring retention to forefront

Nampa teachers showed up in force at Tuesday night’s district board meeting to sound a call for unity and urge administrators and trustees to support educators.

Nearly 100 teachers and community members participated in an hour-long tailgate party preceding the meeting.

Nampa Tailgate

Teachers and community members participate in a tailgate party before Tuesday night’s school board meeting in Nampa.

Teachers, many from the Nampa Education Association, began grilling in the district office parking lot at 5:30 p.m., serving up more than 100 hotdogs and fixings to emphasize the community nature of education.

Nampa Education Association President Mandy Simpson said the tailgate was intended to welcome new school board members Mike Fuller and Brian McGourty and raise awareness about the ongoing master agreement negotiations.

Teachers then moved inside for the regular meeting, filling all 70 seats in the boardroom and crowding against the back wall and inside of adjacent hallways.

Throughout the evening, teacher retention became a dominant theme against a backdrop of ongoing 2013-14 master agreement negotiations and financial concerns.

District officials estimated that 18 percent of teachers quit their jobs ahead of the upcoming school year.

“We continue to have people come in and tender their resignations, and that is ongoing,” Interim Superintendent Pete Koehler said. “I expect that to continue all the way up through the month of July until we hit the point where the law says we must now take action.”

Simpson estimated the turnover rate was at 20 percent and growing.

“We have to work to maintain, to retain and motivate highly qualified teachers to come to this district,” Simpson told board members. “If we don’t take it very seriously, we will see people leaving – not only (leaving) teaching in this district, but taking their kids elsewhere.”

Former teacher Bonnie Richardson said six of Nampa High School’s eight English teachers left this year – herself included. Each teacher has at least five years experience, but left for financial reasons.

“There is a train crash on the horizon,” Richardson said. “With the proposed salary cuts, they can’t afford to have a family.”

Teachers from the nearby Vallivue and Caldwell districts attended the tailgate and meeting as a show of solidarity.

Nampa Full House

A capacity crowd fills the Nampa School District boardroom Tuesday night.

Many teachers urged their colleagues to attend the contract negotiations when they resume on July 18.

“As you can see, the community is here and there are people from surrounding communities also here today because they care about students in Nampa,” Simpson told board members.

By the end of the night, there was no doubt the teachers’ message had been received.

“I heard your message, Ms. Simpson, and I appreciate the spirit with which you offered that message,” new board member Brian McGourty said.

Getting organized

On Tuesday, district officials swore in newly elected McGourty, an optometrist, and Fuller, a teacher. They succeed past board members Scott Kido and Dale Wheeler.

Board members also voted unanimously to elect Daren Coon, an irrigation district employee and veteran board member, as board chairman.

In other developments, the district is hiring Certified Public Account Randy Dewey to fill the vacant chief financial officer position.

Dewey most recently served as senior audit manager of Eide Bailly, a top 25 regional CPA firm.

Dewey has experience in state and local government audits and has played key roles in the financial audits of the Meridian and Boise school districts – the state’s two largest.

Koehler said Dewey expects to sign his contract Wednesday and report to work shortly.

Bond restructuring

Board members authorized restructuring the district’s outstanding bonds as part of an effort to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

District leaders plan to refinance about $4.3 million of outstanding bond obligations – by delaying the payment date. It’s part of an effort to ensure a $4.3 million supplemental levy, approved in March, has a neutral impact on taxpayers.

The move could add about $900,000 in interest costs, but will save money in the short term.

The district still faces risks, such as cash flow issues, said bond underwriter Eric Heringer, of the firm Seattle Northwest Securities.

And in light of the district’s financial woes Moody’s Investor Services recently downgraded the district’s bond rating from “excellent” to “good,” he said. The district’s “baa3” rating is considered to be one step above a “speculative” rating, which is sometimes referred to as a junk bond rating.

However, Heringer said the district is seeking a guarantee from the state that should give potential investors confidence. He added that the district has taken cost-cutting and budget correcting measures that likely prevented the bond rating from eroding further.

On restructuring, bond underwriters plan a July 22 conference call with Moody’s and plan to approve the sale and price of the bonds Aug. 6, with closing anticipated by Aug. 20.


  • Briana LeClaire

    Clark, thank you for your continuing in-depth coverage of this story. I must have missed something, though, because I don’t understand why there will be continued negotiations on July 18. Doesn’t the law say they were done on July 1?

    • Kevin Richert

      Briana:

      Let me take a stab at explaining. The Nampa district sent out contracts on July 1, based on its final contract offer. State law requires districts to send out contracts on July 1, with or without an agreement in place. But the district has not called an end to negotiations (as the Meridian district did on July 1). In Nampa, the two parties will go back to the table on July 18, and that might lead to some changes in the master agreement. My sense is the sides will talk more about benefits, which were left unresolved after the last bargaining session.

      • Briana LeClaire

        Thank you.

  • Bonnie J. Richardson

    The following are my comments to the Board:

    Good evening and thank you for allowing me to speak. My name is Bonnie Richardson. I am a Nampa High graduate, parent of a Nampa High graduate, a member of the community, and for 14 years, I have been an employee of the Nampa School District. That is until a couple of months ago.

    I know that for the past year, the headlines have been the incredible amount of money that the Nampa School District has lost. Depending on who and how you ask, that number is as large as $10 million. But tonight, I would like to offer a teacher’s perspective on three losses that are even greater than the money.

    The first loss is the trust of the community. People feel misled and betrayed not only by the lack of financial responsibility, but by the series of seemingly deceitful actions since then. There are no clear answers to what happened and how much money has really been lost. People believe Josh Jensen was paid his full salary through the end of the year and Gary Larsen is drawing his full retirement. This is particularly heinous in light of the stipends that were imposed on classified staff last year and the way it has affected students. Now, I understand that the district is planning to ask the community to vote for another levy. I suspect that vote will make the loss of trust very clear to the district.

    The second loss is the loss of teachers. Sure having teachers leave of their own will appears better than having to fire them for lack of money, but there’s a train crash on the horizon. I can’t tell you what is happening in other schools or departments, but I know that in the Nampa High English Department six of eight teachers have quit because of the working conditions. If you know teachers, this is unheard of.
    • I am one of the six.
    • One of the six has taught at Nampa High for 20 years.
    • Two of the six are Nampa High alumni—Bulldogs at heart.
    • Two of the six have taught second generation bulldogs: the children of their previous students.
    • Six of the six have taught at Nampa High for at least five years.
    • One of the six is married to another Nampa teacher who has also quit. With the proposed salary cuts, they cannot afford to have a family. They both have approximately 7 years experience and are bringing home entry level wages.
    • Four of the six have masters degrees, including Curriculum and Instruction, Teaching and Learning, Special Education, and one is working toward a masters in Reading Instruction.
    • One of the six is a Nationally Board Certified teacher–the only one certified in English Language Arts in the district and one of eleven in the state.
    • Six of the six teachers who have quit are Highly Qualified and Effective Educators—and they have taken their skills and experience elsewhere.

    These six teachers include coaches, club advisers, program directors, department and committee chairs, and university adjunct professors. Losing these six professionals will deeply impact the school and the student body. And their departure is about so much more than the money.

    Which brings me to the third loss and why I am here tonight, teachers have lost a voice in this district. Their education expertise and knowledge of the students has been minimalized and dismissed.

    I can speak to this directly. At the beginning of last school year, fewer than ten parents had the power to remove a novel from over 400 students’ hands because they found the material objectionable. Every step of the way, the teachers had sought out and gained the approval of administration, yet it took a Sunday and a handful of people to intervene in instruction. Being dismissed in that manner was not only professionally hurtful, but we were left to defend ourselves on our own and then forced to spend a tremendous number of unpaid hours working to recreate instruction that taught to the same standards, using parent-approved literature which the school did not own.

    There are many other examples of ways that teachers’ work and concerns have been dismissed that I don’t have time to discuss, but there is an elephant that must be addressed in the room.

    There is a question about the amount of good faith that is being brought to negotiations on the part of the district. After watching the Meridian School District declare an impasse and silence their teachers–and knowing the similarities that exist between Nampa and Meridian, I ask you to be aware of and to honor the professional expertise that still exists among the teachers, not just in your words, but in the actions that you take.

    Teachers must have the means to support themselves and their families, but none of us got into it because of the great pay. As you see so many leaving, know that it is about greater losses than the financial crisis. And have no doubt that this is negatively impacting the students of the Nampa School District.

  • Julie Madsen

    I am a parent of two children in the Meridian School District. While I am not involved in the education field in any way, I am keenly aware that every success and opportunity I have had in life is a product of my parents’ commitment to my future and my teachers’ commitment to my education. That is why I will continue to fight this fight in every possible arena and with all of the energy that I have.

    It is a travesty to see what the Idaho Legislature has done to vilify its teachers and drive them from the state and the profession. Teachers like Bonnie Richardson should put a human face on this education crisis for every one of us. Bonnie has fought for her students, her district, and her profession for years. She is the kind of teacher I want for my kids. She is the kind of neighbor I want in my community. She is the kind of teacher that we are losing to other states or other professions, because of the failure of the State of Idaho to provide even a basic level of commitment to public education.

    If we can stop the bleeding, it will literally take several generations of school children to recover the level of experience and quality that we have already lost. We have said for years that we can’t afford to invest more in public education. The reality is that we can’t afford not to.

  • Vicki Stevenson

    A few of the Nampa school board trustees wanted to hear from teachers. This is my letter to the board.

    To the Nampa School Board and Superintendent,

    My name is Vicki Stevenson (formerly Bryant). I taught at Nampa High School for 14 years. I left a year ago. It wasn’t because of pay. I was surviving. It wasn’t because I didn’t like my colleagues. I worked with the best teachers in the valley. It wasn’t because I didn’t like my administrators. Pete is and has been one of the best administrators I have worked with and for. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the kids. I loved my Nampa kids. It wasn’t because I didn’t like my classes. I was teaching Calculus as an adjunct professor for NNU. I had exactly the schedule I had worked so hard for over the past 14 years. It was because it felt like things had turned to “us”against “them”. “Us” being the teachers and “them” being the folks in the district office. When the state began their massive withdrawal of funds from the school districts, the district put out a few surveys asking everyone what cuts we thought could be made. This was a great move as it made us feel like we were a team. Everyone in the district could give their input. We knew the cuts had to be made and we were all going to make them. Unfortunately, that stopped years ago. For about three years leading to my resignation, it became clear that the district didn’t really care what teachers thought. That was a mistake in my opinion.

    I began my application to Boise when our levy failed in the spring of 2012. I felt like the community of Nampa didn’t care about educating kids. However, I began to think that maybe I could stick it out. After all, I had a great working relationship with my colleagues and my administration. I loved my kids and I loved my classes. I knew that moving to a new district would mean starting over with lower level math classes. Then negotiations started. The NEA asked to be part of the budget committee and they were denied. I felt like teachers were being silenced. Every negotiation meeting felt more like “us” against “them”. There didn’t seem to be any attempt on the district’s part to make this a team effort. There are HUNDREDS of educational experts in Nampa. The teachers are experts in education and have valuable insights that they would love to contribute. The district does not allow them a voice. That is what drove me out of the district. That is what motivated me to continue the arduous application process for Boise. My heart is still in Nampa.

    After I left Nampa High, my plan was to continue to live in Nampa and commute to Boise. I wanted my son to continue his education in Nampa. I didn’t want to pull him out of his school and away from his friends. That ended this spring. After a year of teachers being stretched beyond what anyone should expect of a human being, I felt that it didn’t matter how good his teachers were, no one could be an effective teacher under these circumstances. I owe it to my son to ensure that he has the best education possible. With more than 150 experienced teachers leaving the district, I no longer believe Nampa can provide that education. I don’t care how great the local colleges are, brand new teachers can not be as effective as the amazing teachers that have left the district.

    You heard from Bonnie Richardson a bit of the teacher’s perspective. I hope my story gives you a little bit more. If you engage teachers and make them part of the process, they will kill themselves for their students. However, when you ignore them and discount their expertise, it makes it difficult for them to justify their sacrifices.

    One last comment. I have been approached by every friend I have in Nampa who has school aged kids and they have asked me about the open enrollment process in Boise. Many parents are looking to get their kids out of the Nampa School District. They understand that teachers have been stretched too thin. They understand that you can not balance the budget on the backs of teachers and expect them to be effective. The district has tried to keep all the cuts from impacting kids, but that is impossible. It is time to work WITH the teachers instead of against them. It is time to make this a team effort. Involve them in every step of the process.

    Respectfully,

    Vicki Stevenson

    Math Teacher

    Masters of Arts in Math Education

    Timberline High School

  • Ryan McGill

    This disaster is exactly what the supporters of the free-market, vouchers, and charters schools wanted. Nampa School District, as a public school, is now seen as a failure. The parents are frustrated and now looking at their options in the area. This will be a boon for online schools and charter schools. Watch as the scavengers will pick away at families and continue to divide these communities by enrolling kids in varying, unproven education models.

    Something like this was bound to happen to the districts in the state. The Idaho Legislature has failed, for decades, to adequately fund public schools. As districts get more and more starved for resources they have to eat their own to stay alive. That is what NSD was forced to do. The starving of this district is result of poor leadership in Idaho.

    I think this is only the beginning. The exodus of teachers from the state of Idaho began three years ago but the masses are on their way out.

    Ryan McGill