The Nampa School District voted Tuesday night to eliminate 27 teaching positions next fall. That’s the latest cost cutting measure to overcome a more than $5 million deficit blamed on accounting errors.
But the state’s third largest school district has a way to go before it reaches a balanced budget next year. Adam Cotterell covers education and has covered Tuesday's meeting. He talks with Samantha Wright about what’s next for Nampa schools.
Wright: Adam I understand it was no ordinary school board meeting.
Cotterell: It wasn’t. Eighty to 90 people squeezed into a meeting room, spilled out into the hall and listened in an overflow room. Many were teachers who wanted to know if board members would accept a recommendation to cut about 50 teaching jobs next year. It came as a surprise I think when the board split that proposal. They voted not to replace 27 teaching positions opening up next fall because of resignations and retirement even though it will mean bigger class sizes. But they left elementary music, PE and counseling jobs alone instead of cutting them in half. That’s what Superintendent Tom Michaelson had recommended.
Wright: And Michaelson had an even bigger surprise.
Cotterell: That’s right. He quit. Throughout the meeting he had firmly defended his proposals and the need to make tough choices to get the district out of debt. But right at the end he became flustered and difficult to understand. He said something about not returning next year. Then the board went into a closed session. They had planned to vote on extending his contract into next year but they didn’t get the chance. Afterword board chair Scott Kido came out and said Michaelson had resigned effective immediately.
Wright: Did he give a reason?
Cotterell: Michaelson didn’t but Kido speculated the board’s rejection of parts of his plan was the final straw. Michaelson knew some board members opposed him, maybe that was a signal that they weren’t going to extend his contract. Kido did say Michaelson had rubbed people the wrong way in his efforts to get the district out of its crisis.
“He has done a good job. I don’t know who else could have done the job that he did,” Kido said. “He was being attacked and criticized for the things he was doing by a lot of people.”
I spoke to Michaelson a month ago about public criticism. This was after the deficit had been revised upward once again and he had successfully pushed for the closure of an elementary school. I asked him if he was worried he was going to come out of the crisis looking like the bad guy.
“Anybody that sits in any position of leadership has to deal with making decisions that are not going to please everybody,” Michaelson said. “But to some degree I think there’s also a level of respect that is gained by individuals that have leadership capacities and make the tough choices in terms of what needs to be done.”
It seems that respect hadn’t materialized as he’d hoped.
Wright: Didn’t he come out of retirement to take this job?
Cotterell: Yes, he had recently moved to Nampa after a career heading multiple districts in Calfornia. After Nampa’s longtime superintendent resigned in the wake of the budget crisis Michaelson seemed perfect for the job because he had experience leading districts through similar situations. He told me he agreed to take the job after seeing how Nampa rallied around its schools raising money for supplies. But there are drawbacks close knit communities. When chairman Scott Kido was asked if Michaelson’s lack of support was because he is “not from around here” kido said yes.
Wright: Who’s in charge now?
Cotterell: The board named Nampa High School principal Pete Koehler to be interim superintendent. Koehler doesn’t have Michaelson’s experience but he is seen as a Nampa insider and from what I can tell he’s quite popular.
Wright: So how far does Nampa have to go before it’s in the black for next year?
Cotterell: The district’s budget director doesn’t know yet, but there’s still a lot to cut. And there’s only about five weeks until state deadlines for school district budgets.
Wright: How are they going to do it?
Cotterell: Well teacher salaries and benefits make up more than 80 percent of Nampa’s budget. They’ll start contract negotiations tonight a month or even two behind some other districts. The outcome of those negotiations is the most important variable in the district’s financial health now. Nampa Education Association president Mandy Simpson says she knows sacrifices will have to be made. She says they’ve polled teachers and they’re will to do things like take furlough days next year.
“But we also have to look at what’s reasonable to keep and maintain quality teachers in the district,’ Simpson says. “And we need people to be able to work and do their job and not have to worry about their own home budgets and feel like they can’t make ends meet.”
The union also wants the district to change the high school schedule from having different classes on different days to having the same ones every day. Simpson says it would mean a high school teacher would have one more class to teach each day and less prep time, but she says it could save the district a million and a half dollars without losing more teachers. The board voted to form a committee to look into the idea.
Wright: Adam, What’s your final take away?
Cotterell: It’s been a really tough year for Nampa School District employees and they could be in for another one next year.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio