MIDDLETON — If everything goes smoothly this summer, outgoing Middleton Superintendent Rich Bauscher’s retirement will last all of six weeks.
And the self-described workaholic wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the end of the month, Bauscher will retire from Middleton, the Canyon County-based school district he has led through growth, ashes, tears and a rebirth since 2001.
Before the summer ends, Bauscher will begin his new job with the University of Idaho, which will allow him to keep teaching and to do outreach work with fellow school superintendents.
He plans to spend his abbreviated retirement with his family, devoting special attention to two adoring grandchildren.
But Bauscher was always looking for his next career challenge, his next puzzle to solve.
Working on his putting game or casting for trout never entered the picture.
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“I look at a lot of retired superintendents and I say ‘How’s it going?’” Bauscher said. “They say either they are busier than heck or bored. Unfortunately, I was a workaholic and still am.”
All told, Bauscher has served as an Idaho superintendent for 23 years. He began his career as the state’s youngest superintendent at age 30, having earned his doctoral degree to lead the Kimberly School District. After a seven-year stint in the Magic Valley, Bauscher left education to go work for an architectural firm.
In the business world, he specialized in facilities and bond planning, experience that would come in handy when he returned to education six years later, first in Marsing, then in Middleton.
To the end, Bauscher is all business. When you ask him about his legacy, he tells you he doesn’t dwell on it.
“I want to just kind of fade away in the sky out there,” Bauscher said. “I don’t want people to say ‘Rich did this.’ It’s a new superintendent (coming on board). It needs to be his district.”
If you build it
If you press him on his legacy, Bauscher is likely to say he hopes all the local families had the most positive experiences possible at school, and that people he met personally liked him.
But education colleagues say Bauscher’s legacy is deeper, richer and more complex.
“I view Dr. Bauscher as more of person who is looking to the future,” Middleton High Principal Mike Williams said. “He has always been planning ahead, not only for our students and our community, but growth as a school district and the city of Middleton.”
Indeed, innovation and growth management are Bauscher’s legacy.
When he took over, enrollment in Middleton was 1,900.
Fifteen years later, it has reached 4,000 and climbing. Bauscher regularly meets with homebuilders who are eyeing a 400-lot subdivision here or 150 rooftops there.
To manage growth, Bauscher leaned on his business experience and developed a formula to calculate how new home construction would accelerate school enrollment.
As homebuilders prepared to break ground, Bauscher brokered agreements for them to donate land for future school sites.
“We’re growing by leaps and bounds — everywhere you look around, there are houses going in,” Williams said. “But Rich has been on the cutting edge the entire time.”
Under Bauscher’s watch, the district built three new schools, made improvements to existing facilities, saw 88 percent of bonds and levies pass and increased their staff size by 153 percent.
That’s not to say it was all easy.
Trial by fire
One of the worst days in Bauscher’s education career fell on Feb. 1, 2007 — the eve of his birthday.
It started at 4:30 a.m. with a wakeup call from a school maintenance supervisor. Smoke was coming from the high school roof.
By the time Bauscher made it to work, the roads were choked with fire trucks and rubberneckers.
Eighty percent of the high school was charred, lost.
The remaining 20 percent, doused by sprinkler systems, was under six inches of water.
Television crews maintained a 24-hour presence in front of the scorched school.
And 900 students with 900 different questions announced they wanted to stick together, to avoid being displaced and sent to neighboring districts.
“That was probably the greatest challenge,” Bauscher said. “You have not much time, you have a fire going on, you have emotional parents and kids and everyone wants a solution yesterday.”
The next day, his birthday, Bauscher summoned district administrators and faculty into the fine arts building.
They closed the door.
Nobody was going anywhere until a solution materialized.
Some nine hours passed, which included two runs for food.
“We planned to use every nook and cranny,” Bauscher said.
Students squeezed into the middle school.
The local church opened its doors and arms.
Bauscher eventually scored a deal on portable classrooms from Elk City, and then ended up turning a profit when he sold them to another district.
Insurance covered the replacement of the high school.
In a shrewd two-part move, Bauscher downsized the building’s footprint by about 10 percent to avoid paying a deductible and busting the budget.
All along, Bauscher knew the building could be converted to a middle school, freeing the district up to further manage future growth. The district then went out to bond for a $51.9 million high school, which passed with 86 percent support and opened in 2010-11.
Saving money on a burned down school wasn’t Bauscher’s only trick. He also fought off enrollment declines — and likely saved staff jobs — during the Great Recession by opening up attendance to out-of-district students and launching a marketing campaign to attract them.
Although Middleton lost 150 students during the downturn, 200 more new ones replaced them, yielding an increase in state funding thanks to the bump in average daily attendance.
Because of his track record and business experience, school districts throughout the West turned to Bauscher to help them lead bond issue campaigns.
Sometimes he helped for free, sometimes he accepted payment as a consultant, but his agreement with Middleton required him to work outside of normal work hours and to obtain permission from the school board chair.
Bauscher helped the Parma, Weiser, Vallivue and Notus districts with bonds in Idaho.
Although he never needed to advertise his services, Bauscher said he helped more than 30 districts, including some in Washington and Oregon.
Ninety percent of the time, Bauscher’s bonds passed.
“Word was out that here is a guy with good experience and success,” Bauscher said.
Although he is leaving Middleton, Bauscher has pledged to work on one more bond issue. He has agreed to help his successor, incoming superintendent Josh Middleton, work on a bond issue for a new elementary school in Middleton.
It will likely be brought before voters in March, with a goal of opening in August 2018.
So even though he has less than a month left on his contract, Bauscher is still ever mindful of a future that is just around the corner.
A retirement reception and celebration for Bauscher runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, June 3, inside the cafeteria and auditorium at Middleton High School, 1538 Emmett Road.
The Middleton School District honored Rich Bauscher and his family by naming athletic facilities at the high school the Bauscher Sports Complex. Bauscher’s family includes his wife, LiNae, his daughters, Mistie and Megan and his son, Matthew. Matthew Bauscher was a star basketball player at Boise State University before playing professionally in Europe for eight seasons. He now works as a real estate agent in the Treasure Valley.