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.