They will have to replace two trustees ousted in a recall on May 17 to return the board to its full five members. Voters recalled Tina Dean and Carol Sayles in that election. The board has enough for a quorum to meet, but not the four required to conduct an executive session.
They must reassure West Ada residents that the schools are being run well despite the upheaval that has marked much of the board’s tenure since last July.
And they will have to find a way to work together on issues such as filling a $4 million deficit in next year’s budget and finding ways to lessen reliance on the $14 million annual supplemental levy because they run the risk of voters disapproving it in a future election, which could leave a $14 million hole.
We talked with five-term trustee Mike Vuittonet, who was active in the recall of his board colleagues, and Phil Neuhoff, a board member from Eagle appointed March 1 to complete the term of Julie Madsen, who resigned rather than go through a recall.
Rene Ozuna, named to the board after Russell Joki’s resignation in April, declined an interview and deferred questions to board leadership.
These conversations with Neuhoff and Vuittonet were lightly edited for space and clarity.
On the most important job facing the board:
Make sure the people realize that the school district is running really well. And through all of the last 12 months, where the rubber meets the road, which is in the school and a lot of activities in the district service office, things didn’t stop because of the recall. Kids are still learning math and learning how to read. Kids are still to going music, still learning science, U.S. history and all these other things.
On Vuittonet, a backer of the recall:
Rene and I are both committed to working with Mike. We both have a very cordial relationship with him. He’s a nice guy. We might have our difference of opinion about some things. Hopefully we all come together on what the goal is, which is to make the school district the best place. Mike has said to me he is committed to making the new board work and work together. I don’t want to put words in Rene’s mouth, but I suspect she is, too. I think we can make it work.
On the possibility of a Vuittonet recall:
The board is going to go forward no matter what happens. Obviously I don’t think the sort of things that have been (discussed) as reasons for recall meet the standard, and that includes the four who have now left the board, but also includes Mr. Vuittonet. One of the things the last nine months have shown is how resilient the district is. If there is another bump in the road — which I would hope terribly we are past — I think the district and the community are strong enough to work through that.
On seating two new trustees:
I would like to see people on the job by June 14.
On what he is looking for in appointees:
The way it is designed to happen normally, outside of this process (through school zone elections), you don’t engineer the makeup of the board. It’s not like we need somebody who knows budgets or we need someone who is an education wonk or a real estate guy. That’s not the way boards are populated.
On concerns that previous board members may have a hand in selecting the new trustees:
I don’t intend to reach out and say “Hey, do you know somebody?” We haven’t talked about candidates. Rene and I are very independent people.
On pursuing concerns about Hillsdale Elementary School, a project criticized by the previous board for rising construction costs:
My first priority is the kids who are going to be in there in the fall. We need to have a facility that meets their needs. In terms of going back and looking at contracts and things, I’m not spending time doing that. I’m looking forward.
If there is stuff (growing out of Hillsdale) that can be done better, it behooves us to be introspective and say there is some due diligence ... we could incorporate into our system.
On the district budget’s $4 million deficit and its reliance on a $14 million annual property tax levy to keep the district running:
Part of the answer is going to be continuing the culture of fiscal prudence that has gotten the district this far and hopefully some increase in revenues. Dr. Mary Ann Ranells (superintendent appointed in January) is very, very committed to getting us out of this budget-deficit situation. And I would certainly like to see that supplemental levy go away completely. But I do think that probably at this point dealing with the budget deficit itself and having our reserves go back up has got to be the first priority.
On the challenge that lies ahead for West Ada’s board:
The biggest challenge is regaining the trust of the patrons and the citizens of West Ada. I mean the trust all across the board, from our patrons, who now are very closely watching things as they have a right to, to our employees who have gone through the fire.
On how the board shows it has changed:
We work collaboratively. We stay calm. We make sure when we move forward we make decisions in the best interest of the kids. If that is what we all do, then we get back to the business of what a trustee’s role is.
On how the board is functioning after the May 17 recall:
We are a little more settled. There is less anxiety and tension. Probably what gives me the most hope is that I don’t believe there are particular agendas, which allows you to thoughtfully consider the task at hand, watching budgets, doing all the things that we do.
On getting along with the two board members:
Both indicated they want to learn, which I appreciated. Both of them told me their main consideration is the students. That’s a good agenda. It kind of gives me hope. I do be believe we can work together. I am going to assume that we will.
On a Facebook page’s mention of launching a Vuittonet recall:
The right of a citizen to recall is as much a right as going to the polls and electing somebody. I would look at that as another election.
On filling the board’s two vacancies:
I think the process needs to be open and transparent, more like the last time (when Ozuna was appointed). We had candidates. We had the vetting process. I hope that we will look for the best candidate without any kind of agenda. It’s good to have parents (as trustees). It’s good to have teachers. It is also good to have business-minded people, people who understand the concept of employment, workforce and negotiations. I am looking for someone who has something like that.
On whether he would want to be board chair again. Tina Dean was recalled. Neuhoff, the vice chair, has assumed those duties until the board selects a new chair in July.
I want to do what the rest of the board wants. There were times when I really wanted to be chairman because of upcoming legislation (to work on). I can do as a trustee what I can do as a chair. The chairman is not the power.
On the performance of the new superintendent:
Mary Ann Ranells has done a good job of settling the tension that was spread across the district. That is what I hoped she would be able to do.
On West Ada’s financial health:
We have to find our way to the place where the district is healthy financially, that we don’t depend on supplemental levies to get us nine days (of school operations, which had been cut), which is critical.
On solving the district’s $4 million deficit:
It really depends on the trajectory of the economy and how funding goes for the for the next two to three years. We need to set a target. We can talk about it, but if we don’t set a target, we don’t aim for it and we don’t make our way to it.
Picking the next trustees
Applicants have until 5 p.m. Friday to submit their applications, which are available at the West Ada website.
Applicants must be from Zone 1, in the western part of the district, and from Zone 3, from the eastern portion of the district. A zone map is available on the district’s website. Tina Dean was from Zone 1 and Carol Sayles from Zone 3.
West Ada trustees will interview Zone 1 candidates in a public meeting Tuesday and Zone 3 candidates on Thursday. The remaining three trustees could select the next two trustees at the end of each of those meetings or set a specials meeting to make a selection.
Trustees are authorized by Idaho law to fill vacancies on the school board. The trustees selected will complete the unexpired terms of Dean and Sayles, which end on July 1, 2017.