Horseshoe Bend principal promoted to superintendent

Longtime district employee Dennis Chesnut was promoted last week to superintendent of the embattled Horseshoe Bend School District.

Within the last three years, the small district 20 miles north of Boise has been challenged by multiple financial problems and abrupt resignations from two superintendents and a board chair.

“It couldn’t get any tougher,” said Chesnut, who has worked in the district for more than 15 years. “Every day from now on should get a little easier.”

Chesnut is the fifth Horseshoe Bend superintendent in three years. John Cook resigned in January of 2012 just days after being placed on administrative leave. Cook was replaced by Vicki Renfro, who abruptly resigned in February of 2014. (Click here for more details.)

Since then, two longtime educators worked as interim superintendents — Dan Arriola in the summer and fall of 2014 and Randy Schrader since the winter of 2014. They helped the district balance its budget and meet compliance requirements.

Over the past three years, Chesnut has served as social studies teacher, athletic director, high school principal. In 2014-15, he was the district’s K-12 principal. He will remain as K-12 principal while taking on the superintendent duties — and will be the only administrator on campus.

“I’m looking for consulting help, particularly the finance part,” Chesnut said. “While I’m a quick study, I still need some help.”

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The district has been crippled recently by financial misfortunes.

  • Former business manager Robb Greiner has been charged with four felony counts of misuse of public money involving $53,000 of district funds over three years. The case is ongoing.
  • The IRS came calling in March, demanding more than $68,000 in unpaid payroll taxes dating back to 2012. The district used reserve funds to pay the bill.
  • Horseshoe Bend’s two-year, $600,000 supplemental levy failed last month and by just 22 votes. It was one of very few election losses statewide.

Chesnut said the staff  was asked to absorb some insurance costs to make ends meet for Horseshoe Bend’s $2 million annual budget. (Horseshoe Bend’s staff of 40 caters to about 230 students.)

“We’ve seen the worst a district can, yet we’ve pulled through because the staff is really solid here,” Chesnut said. “They’ve stuck through thick and thin. The morale is surprisingly pretty good.”

The board approved Chesnut’s promotion on April 21. A few days earlier, School Board chair Tina McDonald resigned. A replacement will have to be appointed to the elected and volunteer position.

But Chesnut’s first priority is to take another try at passing a two-year, $600,000 supplemental levy. It’s on the May 19 ballot.

He’s also building a leadership team to distribute responsibilities, especially at the elementary level. Chesnut’s career has been primarily at the high school level.

“We have been hanging on by a thread, but this staff, they’ve done really well,” Chesnut said. “I’m swimming here, but we’re making progress. I’m not on an island because I have a great staff.”

Disclosure: Randy Schrader has contracted to help the Horseshoe Bend School District and he is a full-time employee with Idaho Education News.