Boise trustees deliberate on their choice to fill a vacancy on their board.
The Boise School Board chose local engineer Steve Schmidt to be its next member on a split vote Friday afternoon.
Schmidt beat out Full Swing Public Relations CEO Caitlin Copple Masingill and outgoing Capital City Development Corporation (Boise’s urban renewal agency) board chair Dana Zuckerman for the spot after sitting board members interviewed the three finalists.
“I think our board could probably use somebody who’s rational, level-headed — just can critically think through issues. And so, I thought ‘Alright, I can help,’” Schmidt told the board.
All finalists received votes, and it was “close,” said Board Chair Dave Wagers, though he didn’t announce the final tally. The outcome was decided through a secret ballot process, so sitting trustees’ votes were confidential, in line with board policy.
Schmidt replaces Alicia Estey, chief of staff to Boise State University President Marlene Tromp. Estey recently resigned from the board due to the increasing demands of her day job, she said at the time.
Schmidt can serve through the district’s next board election in September of 2022, and can then run to finish out the remainder of Estey’s six-year term, expiring in September of 2024, according to a press release.
Who is Steve Schmidt?
He’s a 19-year Boise resident with two sons in the district. As his sons have grown older and required less of his time coaching their soccer teams, Schmidt now has room in his schedule to take on the unpaid, volunteer position, he said.
He works full time at MotivePower Inc., a locomotive manufacturer in Boise, but says with a flexible work schedule and increased free time, now is the “perfect time” to take on the position.
Schmidt championed his conflict resolution skills as setting him apart in interviews with the board and reporters Friday.
“I’m hearing some crazy things about school boards,” he told the board, and added to reporters that the climate surrounding boards “seems very politically charged right now for something that should just be focused on what’s in the best interest for our kids.”
On some hot-button issues, he told reporters, “I don’t really come at this with … a political bias or agenda or specific pet issue,” saying he’d listen to scientific experts on issues like mask requirements, which have drawn outsized attention during the pandemic.
Questions about the board’s diversity — both in membership and perspectives — were first raised by Copple Masingill in her interview. As a white woman, she was first hesitant to apply to be on what appears to be an all-white board, which governs a district with a student population that’s just under three quarters white and is 13% Hispanic or Latino, per the latest State Department of Education numbers.
All three finalists were white, too.
“I think the board of trustees does seem to have a diversity problem. And while I’m still a white lady, I’m a part of the LGBTQ community and have experience working on” related issues and could help the board foster greater diversity, Copple Masingill said.
Schmidt’s interview, which followed Copple Masingill’s, included questions about how he responded to an application for the open seat, in which he lamented the way certain groups are “labeled.”
“I don’t want the fact that I am a white Caucasian male to limit what I can do or what somebody else can. (I) kind of see that happening sometimes when we apply labels to things,” he responded to one question. “I recognize that there are classes that are designated, protected classes, and we need to support them. What I don’t want to see is one class be protected above another class.”
Also discussed was the board’s decision not to interview Boise High School senior Elizabeth Duke-Moe, who applied for the seat. To questions from Copple Masingill, Wagers said the district would have to reevaluate its founding charter — which lays out six-year terms for trustees — before bringing a student nearing graduation onto the board.
Notably, the Boise district has been drawn into debates about alleged leftist indoctrination from conservatives, including one out-of-district lawmaker, and for its diversity-focused efforts, such as its programs educating English-language learners.
Schmidt will navigate that statewide attention as he joins his fellow six trustees come December. And despite “turmoil” for trustees across the state, Boise’s board appears to be stable, he said.
He’ll be sworn in on Dec. 13 as the third trustee appointed to the board in the last two school years.