Schools chief Sherri Ybarra picked up an influential potential ally in her bid to create a rural schools support center.
The Idaho School Boards Association voted overwhelmingly to support creation of the rural school centers — with one important caveat.
Trustees at Friday’s convention agreed to back the proposal if it is paid for by Ybarra’s State Department of Education budget — not the much larger public schools budget.
The distinction is noteworthy. ISBA leaders have adopted a philosophy that they would not support any new education spending until the state funds the career ladder law for teacher salaries, and increases school districts’ operations funding to what they consider “2017 levels, with inflation factored in.”
Earlier this year, the Legislature restored districts’ operations funding to 2009 levels reached before the onset of the Great Recession.
Buhl school board members amended their resolution Friday, to reflect the idea that the rural school centers should not take money from the public school budget.
“We are in desperate need in a rural school setting,” said Buhl trustee Scott Tverdy, the resolution’s sponsor. “Sometimes because of distance and sometimes due to remoteness from metro areas, we do not have access to some of the specialties we need in our school district most.”
Tverdy said a rural school center would function as a multi-district cooperative, and allow districts such as Buhl to receive extra help as needed, on a contract basis.
Officials from several districts supported the proposal.
Boise trustee Nancy Gregory also backed the rural center, with the funding amendment attached. Plummer-Worley Superintendent and Special Education Director Judi Sharrett supported it as well.
“Small districts often have few resources and fewer people who can devote time and energy to finding creative solutions to meet students’ (educational needs),” Sharrett said. “We could rely on a rural center to distribute essential services that would provide the greatest benefit.”
Ybarra pitched her rural schools center during the 2016 legislative session, but it did not receive funding and died in the Senate during the final hours of the session.
Ybarra released an early version of her 2017-18 public school budget on Sept. 1, and called for funding the rural school center out of the public school budget. On Friday, ISBA Executive Director Karen Echeverria and Government Affairs Director Jessica Harrison vowed to oppose the rural school center if Ybarra does not amend her budget to reflect the ISBA’s resolution.
Ybarra is expected to present her formal budget request to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in late January or early February.
The weighted vote in favor of backing the rural schools center was 3,497 to 348.
Before adjourning their annual convention Friday, ISBA leaders voted on a slate of other policy proposals and held their leadership elections.
- Electing Jim Stoor of the Soda Springs School District to serve as ISBA president-elect.
- Electing Jennifer Parkins of Genesee Joint School District to serve as ISBA vice president.
- Killing a resolution calling for flexibility in hiring principals and superintendents.
- Passing a resolution relating to the retention of retired teachers.
- Passing a resolution calling for the Legislature to approve supplemental mechanisms to fund school building construction and maintenance.
Passing a resolution calling for the Legislature to lower the two-thirds supermajority requirement needed to pass a building bond issue.
- Passing a resolution to allow school boards to enter into closed executive session with a simple majority vote. State law now requires a two-thirds vote.
- Passing a resolution opposing any amendment to the Idaho Constitution’s separation of church and state — a section sometimes called the Blaine Amendment.
- Killing a resolution to provide incentives for students to pursue teaching.
- Passing a resolution calling for the state to increase funding for classified employee salaries.
- Trustees also withdrew several resolutions from consideration before a vote. Those resolutions dealt with school safety, funding extracurricular activities and hiring law enforcement officials to serve as school resource officers.
All proposals passed Friday become the official position of the ISBA for two years.