Marsh Valley students stage walkout to support teachers on the chopping block

Students in the Marsh Valley School District staged a walkout May 20 to support district teachers facing dismissal due to overstaffing. The all-day demonstration brought around 45 students to the district office.

The student-led demonstration occurred in response to the district’s reduction in force (RIF) considerations, announced in the weeks leading up to the walkout.

The district has since rescinded its RIF plans for the incoming school year.

Overstaffing leads to hard conversations in tight-knit district

 According to district superintendent Gary Tucker, Marsh Valley employs 75 teachers, but receives state funding for only 68. With enrollment on the decline, the district will likely receive funding for fewer teachers in the coming years.

In August 2023, Marsh Valley patrons passed a two-year, $2.2 million supplemental levy — with $582,000 per year set aside to fund salaries for five teachers.

The levy, according to Tucker, was intended to be a “temporary solution,” allowing the district to maintain its staff for another year without dipping into savings. But now, Tucker says, it’s time for the district to make some difficult choices.

The district has opted not to fill two vacancies, and on May 13, the school board began discussing RIF options during a regular board meeting. Trustees considered three solutions: reduce high school staff by one of two business teachers, one social science teacher or one science teacher.

Ultimately the board voted to move forward with the reduction of a business teacher, the option board members believed would have the lowest impact on students’ course options.

But the decision sparked blowback from district parents and patrons.

Jessica Willoughby, a district parent, has organized a parent group to help hold administrators and trustees accountable for tax dollars, and find solutions to the district’s staffing issues.

Willoughby says she’s frustrated by the district’s RIF considerations, and believes that Marsh Valley’s staffing changes over the past year have contributed to a “lack of stability” for both students and teachers. And with a levy intended to support teachers for two years, parents believe the district’s RIF considerations are premature.

“I don’t want to see anyone [lose] their job,” Willoughby wrote to EdNews. “I would love for us to take our time and exhaust all efforts for that not to happen. However we are over our allotted numbers…if we take all emotion out of it and put numbers to paper upsetting things may have to happen.”

In light of the RIF announcements, Willoughby posted an online petition for a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Tucker. As of May 27, the petition had 149 signatures.

Willoughby and other parents have also expressed frustration over the district’s decision to hire Jay Thayne as assistant superintendent, while teachers face dismissal — a decision Tucker defended, saying Thayne brings in more money than he costs, due to his role as a grant writer.

“He is a net positive,” Tucker told EdNews. “In addition to all the other stuff he does…he brings more money into the district than he costs, and frankly, if I can hire 20 more people that bring more money into the district than they cost I would do that as well.”

Student demonstration draws dozens to district office

 Marsh Valley students weren’t afraid to express their own frustrations with the district’s RIF proposals. On May 20, around 45 high schoolers staged a walkout, spending most of the school day demonstrating at the district office.

Students’ signs read, “Support us by supporting our teachers,” You can’t put students first if you put teachers last,” and “Our teachers deserve better.”

Clancy Harris, a junior at Marsh Valley High School, said the demonstration was a way for students to voice their concerns about losing teachers.

“These teachers are teachers that truly care not just about doing a good job, but by excelling in that job by caring about each and every person,” Harris said. “If someone goes looking for help, they are the first to respond.”

Additionally, Harris said losing classes could impact students as they navigate high school. “The programs that were being cut were our business classes,” Harris said. “The life skills…which we learn in those classes [are] something I view as vitally important…The teachers are veteran teachers who have done tons for our school spirit, education, and community.”

Harris said the students wished to speak with their superintendent during their demonstration, but never got the opportunity.

“We left a note, but still haven’t heard much,” Harris said.

RIF postponed until future notice after board interference

 On May 21, Marsh Valley rescinded its RIF considerations.

Tucker says the decision was not made due to patron pushback or pressure, but because of trustee interference. A district statement released following the May 21 special board meeting reads in full:

“After consideration of implementing a RIF the board has learned that an individual board member used personal connections to collect sensitive information outside the RIF process in regards to this employee’s personal and professional life. This information was communicated to district staff and this may compromise the impartiality and the procedure outlined in 5740P. Therefore, after considering all the information and receiving direction from the district attorney, the board has decided it is in the best interest of the district not to proceed with the RIF at this time.”

Tucker says this development will only lead to more cuts in the future.

“We’re going to have to do more next year,” Tucker said. “We can afford to pay that teacher for next year, but we are going to have to dip into our fund balance to do it. And to prevent that in the future, we are going to have to be a lot more creative next year and probably make some additional changes.”

Tucker maintains that any future reduction measures are in pursuit of what is best for students. Without a balanced budget, the district will not be able to implement new policies or create new courses that could better benefit student success.

“We’re going to continue working to do what’s best for kids,” he said. “And we need to figure out a way to balance our budgets so that we can do that.”

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber, a former reporter with Ed News that focused on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley.

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