Friday, March 7, 2014

School board continues hectic pace

Meetings set next week for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday

Express Staff Writer

Board members for the Blaine County School District are, from left, Trustee Kathryn Graves, Trustee Elizabeth Schwerdtle, board Vice Chair Kathy Baker and board Chair Shawn Bennion. The board normally consists of five trustees but currently has a vacancy caused by the resignation in January of former board Chairman Paul Bates. Photo by courtesy photo

    Only two-thirds of the way through the Blaine County School District’s current fiscal year, the district school board has already held 41 meetings. That’s one more than the board held in all of fiscal 2013 and nearly twice as many as were held four years ago.
    That doesn’t even count the three meetings the school board has scheduled for next week.
    There have been several situations during fiscal 2014, which started in July, that necessitated a flurry of board meetings, most of them in executive session because they involved either litigation or personnel. One of those flurries of activity occurred last September as the board finalized a settlement to end a lawsuit between the district and McKinstry Essention. That series of meetings was followed immediately by another flurry as the board negotiated a termination settlement with former Superintendent Lonnie Barber.

Sometimes in life, there are things worth more than money alone.
The future of our kids
is one of those things.”
Shawn Bennion
Board chair

    The school board held eight meetings in January alone. Some were for regular business, but the majority concerned former board Chair Paul Bates, who resigned that month after allegations surfaced about underage people drinking alcohol at his home during a New Year’s Eve party.
    Currently underway is a series of public board meetings involving the proposed budget for fiscal 2015. Board Chair Shawn Bennion said the meetings will help the public and the board to be more knowledgeable about the budget before it is finalized in June.
    “We hope the public can take advantage of the opportunity to understand the budget better,” Bennion said. “Over the last few years, we have done the workshops in order to have a more informal format where the board and the public can ask questions to be better informed.”
    If the current rate of meetings continues, the board will have met more than 60 times in fiscal 2014. That compares to 40 meetings in fiscal 2013, 38 in 2012, 27 in 2011 and 24 in 2010.
    Bennion acknowledged that the number of board meetings will likely remain high for the near future.
    “After the budget process, we can evaluate it to see if this option was beneficial and worth repeating next year,” he stated. “The number of meetings should decrease after the new superintendent is hired. I am hopeful that this year will be a peak, and the amount of meetings will get back to a more manageable number.”
    Bennion, who was elected to his position in 2011 and chosen by the board as chair in January following Bates’ resignation, acknowledged that being a board member requires a significant amount of his time. Bennion is employed fulltime as an electrician with Sun Valley Co. and is married and the father of four children, two of whom are enrolled in the district.
    “The amount of time per week varies depending on what is going on at the time,” he said. “The amount of time I spend has increased since becoming chair. I don’t think it’s quite like having a second fulltime job, but it’s definitely a busy part-time service. There is a lot of behind-the-scene time reading, studying and preparing for the meetings.”
    Bennion noted that it is difficult at times to balance his job schedule, his time with his family and his time serving on the school board, and acknowledged that at times, it can be a thankless job.
    “I would like to give all the credit to my wife for supporting me,” he said. “She has been amazing. Without her help, I could not keep this schedule up. I would also like to thank my boss. He has been extremely understanding and flexible with my schedule so I can attend all the daytime meetings.
    “Some of my other hobbies and interests have taken a back seat for now. There is a time and a season for everything. I remember being asked in a PTA meeting while I was running if I thought I could dedicate the time necessary. It has been a crazy and hectic couple of years, but I feel I have to put in the time needed.”
    School district trustees receive some opportunities for training and there is occasional travel and an occasional free meal, but otherwise they serve without pay. So why do they do it?
    “I get asked at work all the time why I’m doing it,” Bennion said. “I enjoy it. I care about our students. I love to see them succeed.
    “I feel that I have been fortunate to have people who cared enough to serve and help me in my life. I would like to return the favor. I think that if everyone pitches in, takes their turn and helps out, we can accomplish amazing things.
    “I think that public service is one of the greatest opportunities or responsibilities we have in our society. Sometimes in life, there are things worth more than money alone. The future of our kids is one of those things.”

More meetings
    The Blaine County School District board of trustees has scheduled public meetings next week on Monday evening, Tuesday evening and late Wednesday afternoon. All meetings will be held at the district office at 118 W. Bullion St. in Hailey. Complete meeting agendas are available at the district website at
    On Monday, beginning at 6:30 p.m., the board will consider the sole application, filed by accountant Kirk Peterson, for the district Zone 4 trustee position. The meeting will consist of an introduction and opening statement by Peterson, followed by questions and answers. The board may make a decision that night regarding Peterson’s appointment.
    On Tuesday, beginning at 6 p.m., the board will hold its regular monthly meeting for March. Agenda items include an update on the district superintendent search, consideration of funding Wood River Middle School baseball and softball programs, consideration of a food service management contract award and consideration of construction budgets for projects at the middle school and at Woodside Elementary School.
    The Wednesday meeting is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. According to the agenda, district Business Manager Mike Chatterton will present information on proposed department budgets for fiscal 2015.

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