Four candidates challenge two Nampa trustee incumbents

The Nampa School District’s financial woes and a failed charter school within its boundaries figure in trustees’ races next month as four challengers seek to toss out a pair of incumbents.

Three of the challengers say incumbents Jocabed Veloz and Daren Coon did not listen to the community or work hard enough to find solutions as the district went into a financial tailspin three years ago. The district was forced to cut busing to a magnet school, close an elementary school and cut 45 teaching positions through attrition for the 2013-2014 school year.

Both incumbents say they did listen but made the decisions they had to make to get the district out of a $5 million financial hole.

One challenger, Isaac Moffett, was a founder of the Nampa Classical Academy in 2009. That school quickly ran into trouble with the State Public Charter School Commission over its finances and its attempt to teach the Bible in ninth grade.

The school’s charter was eventually revoked by the State Board of Education over financial problems, and Nampa Classical filed for a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy in June 2011, listing $867,067 in liabilities and $143 in assets.

Moffett said he was not in a decision-making capacity and did not control finances while the board went through its financial problems that led to the school’s closure in 2010.

He did support teaching the Bible as history and literature in the school, but the school lost a lawsuit after the U.S. Supreme Court decided, without comments, not to hear the case.

He said he won’t push for Bible instruction as a trustee. “That is not an issue,” he said. “Not even on the radar.”

Incumbents face voters

Veloz, who was appointed to the board in April 2012 a few months month before the financial implosion, and Coon, who is seeking his third term on the board, are the final incumbents who were in office then to face voters.

Bob Otten, a former Nampa elementary school teacher appointed to the board in January 2012, was re-elected in 2013. Another board member was defeated. A third decided not to run again.

The May 19 race puts Coon, secretary-treasurer of the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District, against Moffett and Janelle Stauffer, a clinical social worker, in Zone 2 in the district’s northwest corner. Trustees are elected from zones, not by the entire district as it is done in Boise School District.

Veloz, a data analyst for St. Luke’s Health System, is challenged in Zone 1 by Mandy Simpson, former president of the Nampa Education Association, who now teaches math at Capital High School in Boise, and Jac Webb, director of Adult Basic Education at College of Western Idaho.

A dual-language school suffers

Nampa hit a wall in 2012 after district officials double-counted revenue, under-budgeted expenses and miscalculated the number of students on which much of the district's state funding is based.

It closed Sunnyridge Elementary and cut busing to New Horizons Dual Language Magnet School, whose enrollment then fell from more than 500 to less than 400 when families couldn’t get their kids to school.

Stauffer and Webb had children at New Horizons at the time. Webb works with a thousand limited-English students at the College of Western Idaho. “Dual language shows really great benefits,” he said.

He reached out to Nampa board members, sending them emails. “I felt there needed to be an openness to dialogue,” he said. But he heard back only from Otten. He said he didn’t hear from Veloz. She said she doesn’t remember getting an email from him.

Stauffer said parents tried to offer other ideas to keep busing alive at New Horizons, but the board disregarded them.

‘They were heard’

Veloz and Coon said the board listened. Veloz remembers a special committee that met and went over in details plans offered by parents on ways to keep busing alive for New Horizons. One idea was to charge for the service, but many parents couldn’t afford it.

“We explored alternatives — what was feasible and what was not feasible,” Veloz said. “For me the busing was very expensive. We would have been in the the hole that much more had we continued the busing .”

Coon recalls board meetings, one lasting past midnight, when the public was invited to give ideas. “They were heard,” he said.

Simpson, the former union president, said the board needs to pay closer attention to its budget. Simpson took part in contract negotiations with the district. The union would put up an offer for raises, and interim superintendent Pete Koehler would respond that the district had no money. Simpson would make another offer and get the same response. Frustrated, she finally told Koehler that wasn’t the way a negotiation was supposed to work. The union was to offer and the district counter, she said. Koehler didn’t budge.

Teachers ended up with 14-day furloughs in 2013-14. Simpson said she left the district because the salary cut meant she would have a tough time making ends meet.

Now she is back and insisting that the board should do better at making sure finances stay on track.

“If you are not paying attention, that can happen to anybody,” she said “Because of the mistakes, (the board) should do more community planning and working with outside sources.”

Alternative teachers and testing

Moffett has a different agenda. He opposed the testing associated with the Idaho Core Standards, saying it is too long at an estimated seven hours for students. He said the board is obligated to tell parents of their right to opt out but has stayed silent.

“If a parent finds something objectionable — a textbook, a subject, standards, assessment — they have the right to withhold that from their children,” Moffett said.

Coon, his opponent, disagrees. He said a trustee must uphold the law that public school students study under Idaho Core Standards and take the state assessment to gauge their progress.

“It isn’t that their personal preferences or personal desires become the law of the land,” Coon said.

Moffett also questions the district signing a contract with Teach for America, a program that allows teachers who have provisional certification to be classroom instructors while they work toward full certification.

With financial support from the J.A. and Katheryn Albertson Foundation, the district signed the contract in December as a way to hire teachers. The district is not required to hire any of the instructors, but it hired a special education teacher for 2015-16.

Moffett worries that the teachers may not be adequately prepared. Teach for America’s special-education teachers are not certified for highly specialized situations, said Tony Ashton, executive director of Teach for America Idaho.

“Do you really want someone in special ed who is not trained or not experienced working with your autistic kid who is not verbal?” Moffett asked.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman