School board members fill the Statehouse

BOISE — Over 150 school board trustees and district administrators visited the Idaho Capitol Monday — dining with legislators, watching debates on the House floor and testifying before the Senate Education Committee.

The activities kicked off the Idaho School Boards Association’s annual Day on the Hill lobbying event, which connects the local K-12 leaders to lawmakers and other state officials.

Idaho’s K-12 trustees are locally elected officials who hire and evaluate school superintendents, approve school budgets, track expenditures and develop local policies.

The annual event is an “important reminder of why we do this work and the power of advocacy,” association Executive Director Misty Swanson said.

Idaho School Boards Association Executive Board members speak during Day on the Hill on Monday, Feb. 21. Pictured: President Jason Knopp, right; Vice President Starr Olson, center; and former president Jody Hendrix. Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho EdNews

Melba school board chair Jason Knopp, who’s also ISBA’s president, said Day on the Hill helps trustees learn to use their voice. “The legislators … want to hear from us because they know that we are representing the people in our school district — because we’re elected, like they are.”

The first two months of Eric Smallwood’s tenure as a Twin Falls trustee have been like “drinking from a firehose,” he said. At their first meeting this year, he and other trustees recently faced a tense decision: moving a school boundary that would affect 80 families.

And Smallwood’s board is dealing with other deep issues. The district is short 62 classified staff positions as it competes with fast food jobs. He’s also stuck decoding acronyms and abbreviations in official documents, and understanding the funding sources that funnel to Idaho schools.

He hopes Day on the Hill will help with these and other issues, including the legislative debate process, tracking education-related bills in the Statehouse and understanding why legislators introduce some bills.

Orofino trustee Greg Gerot, center, talks with board chair Cristine Erbst, left, at Day on the Hill on Monday, Feb. 21. Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho EdNews

Starr Olson, a plumber, is a longtime trustee in the Dietrich district and ISBA’s vice president. ISBA is instrumental to his leadership, he said.

He pointed to the trainings he and his board received over the years, which cut their regular board meetings down from five hours to two.

And building relationships with legislators proves helpful down the road, Olson added. When a new bill affects his district, he knows he can call Rep. Sally Toone, his local legislator, to better understand its impact and share his thoughts.

“Representatives are just like school board members. They make the best decisions off of the information that they’re given,” Olson said. “But if no one speaks out and tells them the other side of the story, they can still only make the best decision (with) the information they have.”

Trustees were set to hear from Senators Chuck Winder and Melissa Wintrow on Tuesday morning before visiting the House Education Committee and watching debate on the House or Senate floors. A legislative luncheon is also planned Tuesday.

An Idaho School Boards Association member points over a Day on the Hill pamphlet as the Idaho House of Representatives debates Monday, Feb. 21. Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho EdNews
Kyle Pfannenstiel

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel covers the implementation of policy in Idaho’s K-12 public school system. He’s a military brat and former health care reporter who holds degrees in Journalism and Political Science from University of Idaho. Follow Kyle on Twitter @pfannyyy. He can be reached at [email protected].

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