School board must put students first

For three and a half years, I have served on the Blaine County School District (BCSD) Board of Trustees.  For over 10 years, I have been an active promoter of educational excellence in Blaine County.  Among other things, I led a grassroots effort at the Idaho Legislature to save property tax funding of schools.  I have volunteered countless hours in the classroom, served as PTA co-president, and more.  There are many good things in BCSD and I am a huge champion of its students, teachers and employees.

Elizabeth Corker
Elizabeth Corker

In 2007, I began to realize that the board was not setting policy and leading the district the way a good and healthy school board should.  The chain of authority, which is supposed to flow from patrons (i.e. citizens, taxpayers) to board to superintendent, was upside-down.  It still is.

The job of a school board member is clear.  Board members are elected not to rubber stamp administration’s plans, but to hold it accountable to the owners of the district — taxpayers and citizens.  It is the community’s values and priorities, not the superintendent’s, which must drive the Board’s spending and policy-making decisions.

As a Board member, I have worked consistently and diligently to restore the patron-board-superintendent relationship to its proper configuration.  For this, I have been vilified and attacked by a few vocal administrators and community members, who disagree with the notion that the board should set priorities and goals based on our community’s student-centered priorities.  They would prefer that I not ask questions, but simply follow the superintendent’s agenda, even when it diverges markedly from the “will of the community.”

In the past year, the district has spent tens of thousands of dollars to gather “owner” input.  This input shows that our community wants: 1) smaller class sizes, 2) less spending on district office administration, 3) drastic reduction or elimination of the costly Communications Department.

Data supporting these community priorities is so overwhelming that it is hard to imagine how our superintendent and three board members have been able to override it.  For example, district-led budget meetings show “Administration—District Office” was soundly rejected as a “value proposition” by community vote of 325 to 8.   Similarly “Communications Department” was rejected as a “value proposition” by community vote of 225 to 10.

And yet, for the past year and a half, three of five members of the board have acted in direct opposition to this input.  They have supported the superintendent’s agenda, which has added, not reduced, administrative positions, as well as average cost per position.  The Communications Department budget is now $220,000—an unheard-of amount.  All of this costs kids in the classroom. It also hurts teacher morale.

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Our community strongly supports education, as evidenced by $16,000 per pupil funding.  However, it does NOT support district office leadership that ignores overwhelming public input and enriches itself with money citizens believe should be spent on needs of children.

When the BCSD superintendent recommends increasing her own compensation package by almost $8,000 in one year to a new record of $173,880 for highest superintendent salary in Idaho, while proposing cuts in programs and positions that help the neediest children, such as Hispanic Liaison, Special Needs Liaison, after school programs, Mountain Rides, etc., something is very wrong.  The fact that three of five board members voted for these backwards priorities anyway, despite outcry from hundreds of citizens, is an indication of a board that is simply not doing its job.

I am no longer willing to continue to be a member of a board that does not reflect our community’s values in significant policy and budgetary decisions. I hereby submit my resignation, effective immediately.

Only if the Board begins to put YOUR student-centered priorities first, will we have the exceptional taxpayer-funded school district our children deserve. Only then will more money will be spent in the classroom.  Only then will students truly come first.

Written by Elizabeth Corker, former vice chair of the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees. She resigned this week. 

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