The Statesman has taken a decidedly anti-West Ada School District board position lately. Why?
According to their story line, the board’s majority is acting without justification when it discloses hidden contracts, cost overruns, costly central office positions, and questions the decisions and practices of the previous school board.
The Statesman complains that the new board has an “agenda,”as if planning the future is taboo for elected boards. Yes, we do have an “agenda” — it’s called transparency and the refusal to be a “rubber stamp” school board.
The dissension and discord described by the Statesman is, in fact, manufactured by them and those who have profited from a decade of “rubber stamping” by the previous school board.
The drama being created will only hurt two groups — kids and teachers. If the Nov. 3 supplemental levy fails, we will have to cut teaching positions and school days. That legacy will belong to those who support the previous board’s history and who feed on the discord.
What, exactly, has the new board done that is so controversial?
The facts are these. This board has dedicated itself to transparency, respect for the law, increasing parent involvement and supporting teachers.
• FACT: We demanded more parent involvement in the Strategic Plan, and the revisions created by staff look promising.
• FACT: We asked for monthly financial statements, showing revenue/expenditure patterns and the district’s fiscal status, and the staff responded with, “Can do!”
• FACT: We identified a 40 percent overrun at Hillsdale Elementary and are continuing to monitor it.
• FACT: We rejected a new $107,000 central-office position and redirected the money to teachers.
• FACT: We corrected an Open Meeting Law violation with advice from legal counsel.
• FACT: We voided a lucrative 2017-2018 contract extension for the superintendent.
• FACT: If we were a private corporation, the contents of the contract extension would be business as usual: plenty of perks for the CEO. But we are an underfunded school district that is constantly asking the voters for tax increases to operate and build schools.
The contract included “fringe benefits” such as paying 100 percent of the superintendent’s PERSI retirement, paying up to 25 days of unused vacation, and paying 20 percent of the base salary as a retirement “BONUS” — a nearly $30,000 “golden handshake.” And, the contract’s final provision gave the superintendent unilateral authority to change the terms.
The potential total value of the 2017-2018 contract was, according to the district’s business department’s records, over $200,000.
• FACT: The superintendent still has a job. She still has a two-year contract. What she lost was a future contract, the 2017-2018 contract package.
• FACT: We must act when we discover violations of law at any level. We are, for example, continuing to review the previous board’s policies that favored some employees, that destroyed public records and that diverted teacher compensation to other purposes.
The result: The four board members who support these actions are now threatened with a recall.
What is the basis for a recall? The stated reason is this: The board is taking control of the district.
According to Idaho law, the school board has the EXCLUSIVE AUTHORITY to hire staff, fire staff and make any and all policy decisions.
Those who support the recall have told me: “Don’t rock the boat. Correct these things behind closed doors.”
That’s not the way elected officials should conduct the public’s business.
We took an oath of office to uphold the Idaho Constitution and laws. That’s exactly what we have done. That’s exactly what we will do.
Russell Joki is a member of the board of trustees of the West Ada School District.