Leader in Idaho education in Blackfoot

Kari Overall, IEA president
Catie Clark

Kari Overall, the president of the Idaho Education Association (IEA), was in Blackfoot Wednesday visiting at Independence High School (IHS). The stop in Blackfoot was just one of several on Overall's three day trip to southeastern Idaho.
The IEA represents educators and staff in Idaho schools. Membership in the organization is voluntary. The group can represent and negotiate for teachers if the IEA membership in a district is 50 percent plus one, which is the case in Blackfoot.
During Overall's visit, when asked if the recent teacher strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma could happen here, she responded: "Those happened because the educators there were frustrated and ignored year after year. It wasn't something that happened because their union leadership told them to do it — it was the teachers themselves at the grassroots level who were behind their movement."
"Things are a bit different in Idaho," Overall continued. "Hopefully the funding formula will keep that from happening here."
Overall spent much of her visit to IHS taking to teachers and students. As the Blackfoot School District's alternative curriculum high school, the students study just one subject at a time, doing a semester's worth of work in three concentrated weeks. Once a semester's credit has been collected for a class, students move on to the next subject.
Overall visited a speech class, an english class, an American history class, a biology classes dissecting worms, the school's day care facility, and the student-run food service line at the cafeteria for the day's lunch of mandarin chicken with rice. She ate lunch with the IHS teachers.
"You guys eat together everyday?" Overall asked.
"That's awesome!"
Teacher Dan Grimes introduced Overall to one group of students who came to IHS from Shelley. When a student is enrolled at IHS, they become students in the Blackfoot School District and should be included in Blackfoot's attendance counts in the formula that the State uses to allocated education funds. Because they became Blackfoot's students mid-year, they probably were not included when enrollment figures were sent to the state at the start of the school year which means Blackfoot would be shorted the money for their education.
"Kids in after the beginning of the year don't get counted," Overall observed. "This is a prime example of why school districts need more versatility in their funding formula."
Overall's trip started on Tuesday. She met with IEA delegates in Twin Falls on Tuesday at a "mini-delegate assembly," which is a local meeting that leads into the state IEA assembly in Boise on April 20-21. She also had met with school bus drivers in Rupert whose jobs may be in danger and visited an elementary school in Rupert.
She will be attending another mini-delegate meeting on Wednesday evening in Pocatello. She will also be visiting at Snake River High School.
Before being elected president of IEA, Overall taught history in Boise for 14 years. For ten of those years, she was on the IEA board.
"I minored in math," she explained, "so I could be certified to teach both math and history." Because her school district does not grant more than two years of leave, she had to resign her teaching position to serve as IEA's president for three years. Her term began in July 2017 and runs until the summer of 2020.
When asked about Idaho's bottom ranking in education, Overall replied: "Idaho may be 49th in education funding but we are not at the bottom in how well we educate Idaho's students. As far as test scores are concerned, we are in the middle of the pack. What that really means is that Idaho's educators are doing really well with the minimal resources they are given to work with."
"The time has come to invest in public education," Overall commented. "How about the legislature putting the $2 million into education instead of what they did, turning it into a tex break. For starting teachers, Idaho has a 15 percent attrition rate over the first five years. We just don't pay teachers well at all. Every state that borders Idaho pays its teachers better than we do."
She continued: "There's a pattern in Idaho with the poorer districts that can only pay the state's minimum career ladder (salary), the teachers will stay only for a year or two. Then they move on to take jobs with districts that can afford to pay more. This leaves the rural and poorer districts shouldering the cost of training new teachers over and over again; and that's not good."
We need to be putting more resources into those teachers to retain them for the sake of our students.Every district should have equal access to funding. We want to see the rural districts have the same resources to retain teachers."
"We are investing in the future of Idaho," Overall concluded. "We should be investing the resources to educate the next generation, well-educated citizens who will stay and work in Idaho."