A closer look at Nampa’s latest shakeup

On Tuesday night, the Nampa School Board went against their interim superintendent, and in a big way.

Thomas Michaelson mug
Thomas Michaelson

The board refused to act on one of Thomas Michaelson’s big cost-cutting proposals: a plan to slash elementary school counseling, music and physical education. These cuts would have saved close to $900,000, but it would have left each of the Nampa School District’s 14 elementary schools with part-time staffing in all three areas.

A short time later, Michaelson’s six months as superintendent came to an abrupt public end. He commended the board for making progress in trimming a $5.1 million deficit, then returned to the ranks of the retired. He resigned, effective May 30.

No coincidence there.

“I think it played a significant role,” School Board President Scott Kido said after the board’s tumultuous meeting. “I think he needed more support.”

After Michaelson resigned suddenly and quickly left the meeting room, it fell to Kido to provide some sketchy details.

Michaelson resigned of his own accord, Kido said.

But Michaelson also resigned under heat. It was unclear whether the board would have voted to extend his contract into 2013-14. The idea never came to a vote, and Kido was uncomfortable handicapping how the five-member board would have voted. Even Kido — who praised Michaelson for doing “a real good job” trying to balance the district’s books — said he would have been “torn” about renewing the contract.

Let’s recap the history.

The superintendent’s job came open in September, after longtime chief Gary Larsen left in the wake of a worsening fiscal crisis. In November, the district turned to Michaelson — a retiree who had moved to Nampa after three decades as a superintendent in California, spending much of that time working with districts in crisis. Michaelson signed a contract running through June.

In an Idaho Education News interview in April, Michaelson said Nampa’s financial troubles were worse than he’d expected, and he said he’d be willing to stay on an extra year to help the district dig out.

Michaelson’s budget medicine was by no means pleasant, or popular. Closing Sunny Ridge Elementary School. Outsourcing custodial services. Cutting administrative and teaching jobs — and even though the board kept the counseling, music and p.e. jobs intact, 27 teaching positions got the axe Tuesday night. Finishing the job would have taken a toll on Michaelson, said Kido. “It would have been a rough year for him.”

Pete Koehler
Pete Koehler

The job now goes to Pete Koehler, again on an interim basis. Koehler is principal at Nampa High School, and chief educational officer for Nampa high and the elementary and middle schools feeding into the school. He’s finishing his seventh year on the job.

Kido predicted Koehler will have a “more positive support system” in his new role. Pressed to elaborate, he said Koehler might get more support because he has more ties to Nampa.

The district has until June 18 to submit a balanced budget for 2013-14. Koehler’s support system could be tested quickly.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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