District 55 trustees make changes in policies

BLACKFOOT — The Blackfoot School Board of Trustees held a special meeting Friday to address district policies that conflict with newly-passed state laws.
The board approved a resolution on a 3-2 vote revoking portions of 18 board policies regarding personnel now in conflict with laws passed and enacted during the legislative session. The policies include suspension of employees, recruitment of certificated employees, employment contracts, extra-duty assignments, and the release, evaluation and probation of certificated employees.
The changes are a result of the three bills that constitute the "Students Come First" education reform plan. Each bill had an emergency clause attached and the bills became Idaho law after they were signed by the governor. The final bill was signed last week.
Trustee Bryce Lloyd, who voted against the resolution with trustee Pete Lipovac, said he felt he had to vote no because he disagrees with what direction the legislature has taken.
"It's really been a disappointment," Lloyd said.
Lloyd also said revoking the board's policy opens the school district to lawsuits.
But Superintendent Scott Crane said the district's power is limited.
"I don't think we have an option," Crane said. "I would be more worried about litigation if we didn't pass these."
The board will work to revise the policies over the next several months to align with state law. All changes should be made by the beginning of the next school year.
The board did pass revisions to board policy 418 regarding the reduction in force of certificated employees. Four trustees approved the policy, with Lipovac abstaining.
Crane said the revisions for policy 418 began earlier this year because the district may need to invoke a reduction in force this year.
The revised policy eliminates the use of tenure when considering a reduction in force, in accordance to new state laws.
A reduction in force will now occur in four phases. First, natural attrition will be used. Then, if necessary, those on probation due to unsatisfactory performance will be terminated. In phase three, those on a plan of improvement due to unsatisfactory performance will be terminated.
Finally, a formula will be used to calculate education, training and competency based on certification, endorsements, additional degrees and evaluations.
If additional layoffs are necessary, those in each category with the lowest formula scores will be placed in a lot to be selected for termination.
Lloyd again raised the issue of potential lawsuits stemming from the new policy, and Crane said the district will not be immune to legal action.
"There could be many lawsuits across Idaho," Crane said.
But Lloyd said making decisions on who stays and who is laid off without considering experience is difficult.
"We have very good educators here," Lloyd said. "That doesn't inspire confidence."
Following the passage of the revised version of policy 418, Assistant Superintendent Chad Struhs said the district is anticipating a reduction of $1.4 million in state funding, but said the district is still waiting information from the state regarding exact cuts and formulas. The Blackfoot School District lost $2.4 million in funding last year, following a cut of $800,000 in 2009.
Crane anticipates the district will make budget recommendations at the May board meeting, with decisions being made in June.