Parents, education money figure in West Ada trustee candidates’ forum

Candidates for three seats in the West Ada School District trustees races talked about boosting parental involvement and improving the flow of dollars into their district at a candidates forum sponsored by the Meridian Chamber of Commerce Wednesday night.

The 90-minute forum included incumbents Mike Vuittonet from Zone 2, and Anne Ritter, from Zone 4, both seeking their fifth terms. Their opponents Christine Bitler Whited and Julie Maden did not attend.

In the open-seat Zone 5 race, all candidates participated: Gregory Deitchler, a counselor; Rosemary R. DeMond, a parent with two students in the West Ada system; Louis Pifher, a trustee from 2002 to 2007 and chairman of the board of the Meridian Medical Arts Charter School; and Russell Joki, a retired educator.

Joki has been involved in a lawsuit against the state over his objection to districts charging student fees to participate in their education. He said the case, which could involve the West Ada School District, is expected to go to trial in August.

Joki said he would recuse himself from making board decisions or sitting in executive session not open to the public where the case might be discussed.

Candidates focused heavily on money, from taking care of taxpayer dollars to getting rid of what some considered inequities in the state’s funding system.

People need to know “that if they give us their money we will use it sparingly and transparently,” said DeMond.

Joki said the state should make provisions for fast-growing district like West Ada, which grows by 500 to 1,000 students a year, to get additional dollars to handle the extra students pouring into the district at such a fast rate.

Instead, the opposite is happening, said Vuittonet. Small districts can get funding for up to 97 percent of their previous enrollment if the number of students drops sharply. The so-called phantom students cost West Ada School District $200,000 a year in money that goes to those districts, he said. “We are paying for students that don’t exist.”

Money problems forced the district to contract, cutting 14 days out of the calendar year at the height of the recession, said Ritter.

“Now we are ready to grow (the system) again,” she said.

DeMond complained that too much money comes to the district with strings attached. “I should have a lot of say in how the money should be spent,” she said.

Candidates all said getting more parental involvement in education is a high priority

Pifher said parents are in charge of their children’s education and it is important to keep them involved and motivated.

Some candidates also set out roles for business who are part of the Meridian Chamber.

Joki urged the Chamber of Commerce to encourage business to give parents time off so they can attend parent-teacher conference.

Deitchler, the counselor, encouraged businesses to do more job shadowing and internships that could lead to employment opportunities for students.