Two candidates for the governing board of the Blaine County School District went before the Blaine County Democrats on Wednesday night to discuss why each felt they should be elected to the board on May 21.
Incumbent Steve Guthrie spoke first, thanking the Democrats for allowing him and newcomer Kathy Baker to speak.
Guthrie said he has been a resident of Blaine County for 32 years, and currently has two children in the Blaine County School District—an eighth-grader and a junior. For the past 12 years, he has volunteered with the School District through the Wood River Middle School Parent-Teacher Association.
He said he used to volunteer in his children’s classrooms, but once they were both in middle school, he found himself looking for another way to help.
“Once your kids go into middle school, they really don’t want to see you any more in the classroom,” he said with a laugh.
Guthrie served as co-president of the Wood River Middle School PTA for two years before running for the school board in 2009. He has served since, and was president for the past two years.
Guthrie said he serves on the board because he believes strongly that education should give all children an equal chance to succeed in life. To that end, he said, he could “go on forever” about the School District’s accomplishments, including the high rate of students in extracurricular activities and a recent evaluation from the Sunshine Review that stated the district’s website received an “A+” rating for transparency.
“When I was elected in 2009, my goal was to improve the transparency and openness of our school district,” he said. “That has happened, and I want to continue improving.”
Challenger Baker said that while it is true that the Sunshine Review gave the district’s website high marks for transparency, the school board itself was not evaluated—and, she said, could use improvement in that area.
Baker said she would like to see more accountability and transparency, especially in budget deliberations.
“The state of Idaho [on average] spends a little over $7,000 per pupil,” she said. “We spend twice that. But all of our scores on standardized tests are the same. That is a pretty major gap that I think needs to be addressed.”
Baker said she would lobby to form a financial accountability committee. She said she would also strive to instate transparent performance evaluations of the school superintendent. Right now, she said, the school board only releases a brief comment on the superintendent’s performance. She said she would prefer to see a specific rubric, a very clear scoring of the superintendent’s performance as is done in other districts across the country.
“It dispels a lot of mystery in the process,” she said.
Newsweek and the Daily Beast recently ranked Carey High School and Wood River High School among the top schools in the nation. They ranked 1,001 and 865, respectively, in comparison among 7,000 schools across the country. Wood River and Carey were, however, outranked by Eagle High School (657) and Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy (89).
Guthrie cited these rankings as evidence that the Blaine County School District was thriving, calling them “quite an achievement.” But Baker took issue with those claims, saying that the district doesn’t even register with more reputed rankings, such as U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post.
“You can slice the pie a lot of different ways, and you can selectively look at data,” she said.
Baker has lived in Hailey for 13 years, and has been active in the Hailey Elementary Parent-Teacher Association for seven years, currently serving as co-president.
Baker was an administrator and human resource manager for the University of Michigan before moving to the Wood River Valley and becoming a full-time mother and volunteer.
She said she regularly attends school board meetings and has learned a great deal about how the district administration works.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org