BLACKFOOT — Members of the Blackfoot school board remain tight lipped as suspicion grows throughout the community as to whether the board paid former Blackfoot School District superintendent Scott Crane to 'go away' while he still had up to three years left on his contract.
Crane abruptly announced his retirement from the district at the end of April saying he "had a difficult time in Idaho and that he did not agree with a lot of the educational philosophies of the state and that he could 'retire' from Idaho and pursue his career elsewhere." Various sources throughout the district allude that Crane did not get along with some of the members of the school board and that he was being pressured by the board to leave the district. Crane's retirement was effective June 30, 2012 and he has since gone on to be the superintendent of Grand County School District in Moab, UT.
While rumors about Crane being paid off have been simmering throughout the community since he announced his retirement, the issue is reaching a full roaring boil now that a pay out of $105,428 (noted as Contracted Services) from the district's bank account on July 2 has been brought to the public's attention. Patron and former Blackfoot High School teacher, Joyce Bingham, discovered the pay out while reviewing public records this summer. She requested to see copies of the paper work during the public forum session of the district school board meeting last month and received a letter by interim superintendent Chad Struhs on Sept. 7 stating that "the issue is regarding personnel and that under the legal advice of the district's attorney, her request to see the papers was denied."
Notes from the April 24 school board meeting (the last meeting held before Crane announced his retirement) indicate that an agreement with an employee and school board chairman Scott Reese was made following an executive session; however, the name of the employee was not revealed. Speculation among teachers and members of the community is that this amount is right in line with Crane's yearly salary with the district and that no other district employee would have (or could have) received such a large pay out. Attempts have been made by Morning News staff to contact Reese, Crane and other members of the school board for comment; however, no calls have been returned.
Since this large pay out has been brought to light, Bingham says she has been inundated with community support in her quest to review the paperwork and it has been a hot topic on the Morning News Facebook page and in recent "letters to the editor."
"I am amazed at the amount of support I've received from my family and from this community, " Bingham said in a phone interview on Friday. "I haven't received one negative comment about it. People are upset. We all want to know...where are our district's educational dollars going? We are not getting answers and the trust in our school board is gone."
She added, "I'm not pursuing this to be mean or vindictive, but...what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong."
Colleen Thompson's thoughts on this matter are reflective of what many others in the community are thinking as well; she conveyed her thoughts concisely in a 'letter to the editor' on Saturday. Thompson writes: "What they [the school board] have said to the patrons, teachers and administrators of the school district is: 'We are going to cut out full time librarians, we don't have the money for essential curriculum materials, we are going to load up classrooms so that many of you will choose charter schools for your child and we are going to drop the hours of paraprofessionals because we can't afford to pay for benefits, and by the way, we have paid someone $105,428 and we're not going to help you understand why that was more important than anything else.' "
She goes on: "There might be some perfectly good explanation that would make us all understand where our hard-earned tax dollars have gone, but right now I don't feel that way. What about the rest of you?"
It is not known at this time what (if any) legal steps Bingham or anyone else will make in an effort to move the board to release the paperwork tied to the large payout. In the meantime, members of the school board are proceeding with a plan to find a new superintendent for the district. The board is forming a 15-member committee made up of of teachers, administrators, students and community leaders to help in the selection process followed by a series of a public hearings. The members of the selection committee are to be announced at the next regularly scheduled school board meeting on Sept. 27.