A near-capacity crowd attended Wednesday night's candidates' forum to hear aspirants to the Blaine County School District board of trustees discuss issues ranging from selection of a new school superintendent to an ever-increasing Hispanic population in the Wood River Valley.
The forum, sponsored by the Idaho Mountain Express, was held in the commissioner's meeting room at the Old Blaine County Courthouse. Candidates fielded questions from news reporters, the public and each other.
Candidates present for the trustee position for Zone 2, which includes the south Hailey area, were Ketchum attorney Jim Laski and Steve Guthrie, co-president of the Wood River Middle School Parent Teacher Association.
Incumbent Kim Nilsen was on a pre-planned trip in Ecuador and unable to attend the forum.
Alexandra Sundali, who currently chairs the school board, attended along with challenger Paul Bates, vice president of the Middle School PTA, for the Zone 4 race. Zone 4 includes the west Ketchum area.
Questions regarding the district's next school superintendent and how that decision will be made surfaced several times during the forum. Superintendent Jim Lewis has announced that he will retire at the end of next school year.
Laski, Guthrie and Bates said the public needs to be involved in the decision about Lewis' replacement, but Sundali said the public was involved two years ago when Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Barber was hired. She said a committee was formed then involving the community, teachers and administrators and that Barber was hired as assistant superintendent with the intention of a three-year training and transition process before he replaced Lewis.
"I think the public still has some things to say on that issue," said Guthrie.
Sundali took exception to a suggestion from the audience that she carefully selects who she appoints to advisory committees.
"I do not go out and pick my friends for committees—I would like to make that perfectly clear," she said.
Regarding the growing Hispanic population in the valley, Bates and Sundali were asked if the district has a policy, or should have a policy, regarding students who might be in the United States illegally.
"I think any child who lives in our district should be educated whether they are illegal or not," said Bates.
"Actually, the policy is that anyone who knocks on our doors can come in," Sundali said. "We do not ask whether they are homeless or illegal or otherwise."
Laski responded to a question about school security and the feeling that some students have about a police-type atmosphere at Wood River High School.
"Any student here that feels like they're living in a Gestapo-like atmosphere needs to visit L.A. or some other large cities to see what it is really like," Laski said. "We need to make our schools as safe as they possibly can be."
Guthrie, Laski and Bates said that the public needs to be more involved in the decision-making process. Sundali said she thinks opportunities already exist and the public sometimes doesn't take advantage of them.
"You would not believe how difficult it is to get people to spend time," she said.
Terry Smith: email@example.com
School board election Tuesday
Next Tuesday is election day for two positions on the Blaine County School District board of trustees. Zone 2 voters will cast ballots at Hailey Elementary School, while Zone 4 voters will vote at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum. The polls will be open from noon until 8 p.m.