A divided Blaine County school board on Tuesday night narrowly approved hiring Heather Crocker as communications director, a new position created by the board in November.
The vote Tuesday was the same as it was four months ago—3-2, with board Chair Julie Dahlgren and Trustees Daniel Parke and Steve Guthrie voting yes and Trustees Paul Bates and Kathryn Graves voting no.
Crocker, currently executive director of the Blaine County Education Foundation, said in an interview that her tentative start date is April 4.
The board's approval came with two caveats. One, the board will accept an offer from the Works of Grace Foundation to donate $50,000--$25,000 a year—to help fund Crocker's $78,000 annual salary for two years, and two, it will re-evaluate the position at the end of that period.
Guthrie, who has been the swing vote for the measure, said accepting the Works of Grace contribution represents a compromise, a measure he urged at a special school board meeting on Feb. 23 when funding for the position was one of the issues debated.
Hiring a communications director has been a hotly discussed topic the past few months, leading the board to twice table acting on the issue.
While some criticism has been leveled at Crocker's qualifications for the job, most of the opposition has been aimed at hiring anyone at all.
Bates continued his opposition prior to the board vote.
"It has been very polarizing, it has been contentious," he said. "I think making a black-and-white decision at this time may not be the best decision. I would be very, very hesitant to make a mistake at this time."
Bates was apparently referring to pending state legislation that could reduce funding for the Blaine County School District.
Ketchum-area resident Lyman Drake testified during the public comment portion of the meeting that Crocker is an "excellent" person for the job and that improved communications are needed by the district to bring the community together in light of possible education funding cuts.
"We need to shore up our defenses for this coming storm out of Boise," he said. "It's a small investment to make."
Drake urged unanimity by the board, saying that "a divided board encourages a divided community, and vice versa."
Diane Barker, a Hailey certified public account, provided the board with results of a survey she conducted on the issue, showing that of 341 respondents, only 57, or 16.7 percent, favored hiring a communications director.
Dahlgren said she questioned the "randomness of the survey."
Following the vote, district Superintendent Lonnie Barber said funding the position will not be "at the expense of teachers."
"I do believe it will be a win-win situation," Barber said. "I want it to move forward as a positive force and not as a wedge between us."
In an interview, Crocker said she's pleased and relieved with the board's approval.
"I'm excited to be in a position to help," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with the community. If anyone has any concerns or questions, please call me."
Crocker can be reached at 578-5449.
Dahlgren announced at the meeting that the deadline is Friday, March 18, for filing for candidacy for a school board election on May 17.
The board also changed a town hall meeting from April 4 to April 25. Tentatively, the meeting will be held at Hemingway Elementary School with a meeting topic of "what constitutes a quality education."
The board further approved a recommendation from Wood River High School Principal Peter Jurovich to lower graduation requirements from 54 to 52 credits. Jurovich explained that 52 credits is still more than the state requirement of 46 credits for graduation.
The change, he explained, is necessitated by changes in scheduling that go into effect at the start of the next school year. Instead of a trimester system, the high school will convert to two semesters. Also a variable schedule will be started wherein each school day will have seven rather than five class periods.
Jurovich said the new schedule will allow students more flexibility and choice in taking elective classes.
Terry Smith: email@example.com