The St. Maries School District’s regular board meeting this week was much less tense than the previous few had been.
Without discussion of a mask requirement or talk of closing school buildings, there was no notable conflict either between board members or between the board and the public. About 20 people attended the meeting Monday night at the district office in St. Maries, as opposed to previous meetings that had seated over 100 in the gyms at St. Maries High School (SMHS) and Heyburn Elementary School. Superintendent Alica Holthaus reported that the district was averaging an absence rate of less than 10 percent, so there was no immediate concern about student health.
Three of the district’s four building principals updated the trustees on the previous month in their schools (Brett Murdock from St. Maries Middle School was unavailable). Bridgit Arkoosh at Heyburn said her students were excited about programming, after a demonstration by a NASA team at the University of Idaho (see page 3), and they were planning on participating in the National Day of Coding in December. The elementary schoolers also got to dress up for Red Ribbon Week for drug prevention.
Chris Asbury, SMHS principal, was happy to report that the new bleachers that had been installed in the gym, which will be available for the first basketball games beginning this weekend. He also reported that many students had participated in the University of Idaho program called Apply Idaho, so everyone interested had applied to at least one higher education program in the state. PotlatchDeltic had also sponsored an electrician internship for a high schooler, and Asbury was excited about the students that had applied for that. At the UpRiver school in Fernwood, principal T.J. Blackwell reported he had found funding to help students experiencing homelessness, which included being able to offer washing machines and dryers to students who have trouble getting their laundry done.
Food services supervisor Cheri Chaffey told the board that supply issues had hit the district hard, with many items unavailable and long wait times until they come back in stock. Though schools have so far been able to substitute dishes and get food on the table every day, it has been a strain. Holthaus added that federal nutrition guidelines made it especially difficult to make substitutions at a school level, so she commended Chaffey and her team for holding up well despite those challenges.
Following those reports, the trustees made plans for attending the Idaho School Board Association convention next week in Boise. Holthaus briefed the board about several policy decisions that would be up for debate at the conference, which included statewide hiring policies and other requirements. These discussions included Beth Halvorsen, who was elected to the board last week and will be officially sworn in this January. She will replace current trustee Pete Dirlam.
After this, Holthaus presented several reports to the board. She announced that grant money had become available to give a bonus to classified staff that had served the district in October, because with staff shortages, many workers had needed to cover other classes on a daily basis. The bonus is $154, and the district began steps to issue it as soon as the board voted to approve it.
“It isn’t nearly what they’re worth, it doesn’t even cover their time, but it’s just something to say ‘We see you and all the work you’re doing,’” Holthaus said.
Holthaus also gave an update on the quality of buildings and facilities in the district. While they had made improvements in several key areas, including the bleachers at SMHS and Heyburn and a new heating and air conditioning system at the high school, several items still need fixing or replacement.
“This is a train coming at us faster than I can run,” Holthaus said. “It’s an undue burden on small, rural districts. When you go to the Coeur d’Alenes and Boises and see these beautiful facilities, that’s not an equitable education. And I know the education is far more than the building, and the most important person in the building is the teacher, don’t get me wrong, but when we don’t have the faculties, we’re falling short.”
However, the new athletic field project planned for the high school--a combined facility with baseball, softball and soccer fields--is proceeding on schedule, funded entirely by donations and the booster club. Holthaus thanked Shift and Grind coffee shop and Archie’s IGA specifically for organizing fundraisers for the project.
Lastly, the board passed a motion to disable commenting from all district-run social media accounts. Holthaus said it pained her to turn those comments off, because often they were kind and helpful, but because nobody was available to moderate those comments 24/7, the risk of something inappropriate being posted was too high.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 at the district office. For more information, contact the district at (208) 245-2579.
Correction (November 16): A previous version of this article reported that a bonus had been available to teachers, but the money was actually for classified staff, which includes most other workers in the district but not certified teachers.