A large turnout of approximately 40 concerned citizens attended the Kamiah School Board meeting on Monday night to contribute their thoughts on the levy failure; some were even interested in running another levy in hopes the weather was responsible for the lack of voter turnout.
While the room full of emotionally charged parents and school staff presented viable questions as to how the school could possibly continue to function at status quo, Superintendent Steve Higgins attempted to assure everyone that the students’ education opportunities would remain the same as before.
“As you know, the levy did not pass; we had the board approve the levy plan that was put in place by a committee that was made up of school teachers and staff prior to going into the levy, same as last year,” said Higgins.
Higgins then listed off the changes that will take effect next school year, including the closing of the middle school and combining the 7th and 8th grade classes into the high school, as well as combining kindergarten through 6th grade students in the elementary building. Kindergarten students will have to either switch to half days or go to full days every other day, a result of the lack of state funding for full day kindergarten.
Once the discussion on restructuring took place, citizens were allowed to ask their questions, at which point Leah Kludt took the floor to express how sad she was that the levy didn’t pass. “I was really disappointed because I thought for once we were finally passed it,” said Kludt. “I thought we had made so many strides in the last two years towards being straight forward with the public, being transparent, it was visible. I really thought we were over the hump.”
Kludt went on to ask the board if they would reconsider running the levy again. “I feel like the way we have to make it credible is to pass the levy. I think there’s some things we could do that we haven’t done, some things we’ve done in the past that we could do again.”
“I myself have trouble re-running something,” said board member Rikki Simler. “It’s a tough place to be, it really is.” Simler went on to describe past levy failures and the attitude of ‘no’ voters who felt they were not being heard the first time. He also pointed out the lack of letters to the editor with this year’s levy, something he feels gets people stirred up enough to get out and vote.
“We’ve got great community support, what we don’t have, and this is just an opinion, is we have all these people that are moving into our beautiful area and they’re living around us, and my zone, I will admit I’ve got a lot of them,” added Simler. “They love living out in the country. They’re not part of our community; they don’t have kids or grandkids going to school here. Whether they shop here, I can’t say. They don’t have the community feel; they don’t join your local organizations.”
“Was the levy pitched to them? Did anybody put it in front of them?” asked Jesse Eller.
“We’ve tried and nobody shows up. We’ve had community meetings and had three people show up [in Woodland],” said Simler. “People just don’t get involved, and I don’t know what it takes. The community down here is great, but these people that are moving in around us… I have no disrespect for them, they come here to live in a great place, but they’ve come from out of state, because I’ve watched license plates go to vote; they don’t even register a lot of their rigs here. They are Washington, Oregon, California; they’re legal residents, they’ve been here, they’re just not part of our community.”
“I’m not saying that the information isn’t available, I’m saying that you guys aren’t taking the information and shoving it down people’s throats,” responded Eller, who then suggested that people need to go door to door and make phone calls to sway voters sitting on the fence.
“Did you participate in any of that for this levy yourself?” asked board member Braandon DeGroot, to which Eller responded “no.”
Others attending the meeting wondered if a subsequent levy passed, would the middle school be reopened. Higgins responded that it was definitely a possibility and something he would strongly support.
According to Higgins, there is some financial restructuring on the legislative level that will tentatively provide some funding, possibly as soon as the 2020-21 school year. “They’re looking at having a new funding formula that is not based on attendance, rather it’s based on membership, and they bring a ton of different factors in to make these decisions,” said Higgins. “It’s typical for politicians who are not really sure how this whole thing works anyway, and they’re gonna try and clean it up. It’s been a fight back and forth. On the good side, throughout the whole state there are some winners and some losers. Kamiah has always been a winner. If it passes this year, Kamiah should be getting additional funding that we never got in the past.”
Nailing down a school budget is difficult at best. Many funding sources are on a “wait and see” status including the supposed SRS funds loosely estimated at $80-$100k. Like counting chickens before they hatch, rural schools are forced to make budget estimations based on funding that may or may not materialize.
In other school news, Higgins welcomed Indian Education Parent Committee chairperson Stella Penney. “We are a new committee, I have a two-year term, the other two-year term is Bobbie Penney, she is the secretary and Carter Lopez is the vice chair. We are excited to see what we can do with this committee,” said Penney. “We started pretty late, nobody’s really been involved with the Indian Education Parent Committee in a long time, so hopefully we can change that and work with our community a lot more.”
“Reading your minutes on that first meeting, I think you guys jumped right in on things already, that’s good to see,” said Higgins.
Repairs to the KMS sprinkler system will take place over spring break, a project that will involve removing some ceiling tiles and replacing damaged pipe. Higgins said the repairs should be completed in three to four days.
The superintendent contract for Steve Higgins has been extended for another year with stipulations of what his duties will include to be postponed to next month’s meeting.