When a local school district in Idaho runs out of money, there are usually no easy “quick fix” solutions to the problem. And as a financially troubled school district in the state, and with newly elected trustees taking the helm, the Nampa School District is being forced to look at some very difficult realities of how it has been mismanaging its own resources.
“Ultimately, Idaho is a local control state and it is up to each locally elected school board to make sure local school districts are following the letter of the law,” said Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Education. “Currently, at the state level, we make sure the state and local school districts are as transparent as possible when it comes to financial reporting. Every district is required to post its budget as well as expenditures on its website. The state also has created a Fiscal Report Card to make the data more easily accessible to parents and patrons.”
McGrath added that local school boards are, by design, intended to provide oversight over a local school district’s conduct. “It is up to locally elected school board members to make sure that their school district is following the letter of the law,” McGrath commented.
To that end, both of the newly elected school board members in the Nampa School District are responding to this challenge, seeking to instill a sense of order and transparency as the district seeks to cope with what was reported on May 16 to be a $5.1 million deficit.
“Funds have been mismanaged,” said Mike Fuller, one of the new board members. He said that, in his view, the district overestimated enrollment in years prior, which led to excessive spending.
“I disagree when people say we do not spend enough on education or that we do not pay teachers enough,” Fuller said. “Teachers work only 9-10 months of the year, and an average teacher in Nampa earns the equivalent of $43,000 per year if they were working a full 12-month contract. Also, their benefits cover the full year including the summer when they are not working. I am a teacher, and I’m not saying that it’s easy to live on a teacher’s salary, but these are things that should be pointed out.”
Brian McGourty, the other new board member in Nampa, reiterates several of Fuller’s points about poor budgeting. “Due to flawed revenue projections, our district continued to operate in a ‘business as usual ‘ mode resulting in a compounding of the deficit,” he said. “We are now scrambling desperately to try and bring the 2013-14 budget into alignment with realistic revenue projections when it has been allowed to operate in a deficit mode for at least three years. This process should have started immediately on discovery in August of 2012 but the school board at that time was asleep at the wheel.”
Last month, the Nampa School District board voted to privatize custodial services within the district, a move that will eliminate the need for the district to pay for the custodial staff’s PERSI (Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho) health and retirement benefits, and thereby save the school district an estimated $300,000 a year.
“During a fiscal crisis, all line items and positions must be scrutinized,” McGourty told IdahoReporter.com about the possibility of further privatizing services within the district. “There can be no absolutes other than a full commitment to the children of the Nampa School District.”
Fuller pointed out that the district for a number of years has used private bus transportation services, noting that the possible privatization of yard and building maintenance is something that the board “may need to look in to.”