In spite of all the clamor this year about education, the Blaine County School District has only one contested race for school board membership.
Two others were decided by default, as Ketchum area resident Don Nurge, a newcomer to school politics, and incumbent Trustee Kathryn Graves have already won their jobs because no one filed against them. The word "jobs" may be a misnomer, since trustees serve without pay.
The remaining contest pits Carey resident Shawn Bennion against Bellevue resident Hallie Kelly Star in Zone 1, which includes south Bellevue and the rest of southern Blaine County. Both are newcomers to politics, both have a keen interest in the district as the parents of young children and both have been frequent attendees recently at school district meetings.
The issue will be decided on Tuesday, May 17. The winner will replace Trustee Daniel Parke, a Carey resident and chiropractor who did not file for reelection.
Bennion and Star were both interviewed Monday by the Idaho Mountain Express.
Bennion works in the north valley as an electrician for Sun Valley Co. Originally from Brigham City, Utah, Bennion has lived in Carey for eight years.
He and his wife have a son in the first grade, a daughter in preschool, a 2-year-old daughter and a fourth child on the way.
"Our kids are of vital importance and I want to make sure the kids in our district get the best education possible," Bennion said. "It's especially important now with the state of the economy that they get a good education, whether it be in college or in the trades.
"I think in Blaine County we're exceptionally fortunate with the resources we have and I think we need to tailor that to our kids."
Bennion said parents need to be more involved in their children's education.
"As far as the school district, there's been confusion about how the school board addresses the public," he said.
If elected, Bennion said he would work toward helping high school seniors, some of whom finish school without a real direction of what to do with their lives.
"Some of our seniors slack off," he said. "I think we need to make sure there is rigor in their curriculum. Idaho has one of the highest college dropout rates in the country and I think it's real important that we prepare students, seniors especially."
Bennion said he supports pay increases for teachers and approves of the district spending program this year of borrowing future revenues from the 2009 voter-approved plant facilities levy.
"As our economy is starting to make its way back, I think it's important that we do reward our quality teachers," he said. "Being able to retain our topnotch teachers is invaluable to our future.
< "I think as we improve our facilities, we'll save money in the long run. You're going to spend a little more up front, but hopefully in the long run you'll save money."
Bennion is also a supporter of the district's dual immersion, two-language program.
"In this valley we have a lot of Hispanic influence and I think it's important to teach our kids about other cultures. I'm fluent in Spanish myself, and I think with the global economy it's important to know another language and skill set to interact and be open to other cultures."
Hallie Kelly Star
Hallie Kelly Star has experience in education as the development director for the Lee Pesky Learning Center. She and her husband have three children, a 10-year-old daughter and sons ages 5 and 3.
"I understand with my own children that children do not fit into a box," Star said. "Even with my children, I see vast differences in needs and abilities."
Star said that if elected she wants to make sure that special services for children are equitable at all district schools and that curriculums and teaching take into account each individual.
"I think there needs to be an advocate on the board to see that children are not kept in a box," Star said. "I think teachers want a representative who understands their needs and what their days are like. Teachers and parents need to have more access to the school board than there has been in the past.
"I think there needs to be a large shift in how school board meetings are handled. I think the community needs to feel like they're invited and can participate in a meaningful way. I think there are things that could be changed to make the meetings more effective, shorter and more meaningful.
"One of the things we have up here is tremendous community resources and I think community members need to be more involved."
As far as spending goes, Star says that the district needs to operate "more cautiously than has been done.
"From now on we need to look at each individual project on a case-by-case basis and determine the needs. I think there needs to be more transparency with the public so the public understands how the money is being spent."
Star said she supports pay increases for teachers.
"They have not had a raise in two years, but at the same time there are a lot of people struggling in the community. But I think that teachers are a vital part of our economy and important to the vitality of our economy."
Star is also supportive of the dual immersion program.
"I think it's a great program," she said. "It's a needed program for the non-English population—I feel very strongly about that."
Where do I vote?
Residents of the Southern Blaine County can cast their votes on Tuesday, May 17, in the Blaine County School District Zone 1 trustee election. The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Bellevue Elementary School library, Silver Creek Convenience Store in Picabo and Carey City Hall. Absentee votes can be cast at the Blaine County Courthouse until Friday, May 13. Only residents of Zone 1 can vote. To see if you are eligible, visit the election page at www.blainecounty.org and use the "Where do I Vote" link.
Terry Smith: email@example.com