BLACKFOOT – The board of trustees for the Blackfoot School District held an uncharacteristically brief meeting of an hour before going into executive session on Thursday.
Though summer usually ends on the autumnal equinox, which falls on Sept. 23 this year, district Superintendent Brian Kress announced during his regular report that, “Summer is officially over,” referring to the start of school in just a few days.
The big news is that the revamped Mountain View Middle School parking lot is now complete and ready for the 2019-2020 school year. The construction was delayed from when it was originally scheduled during the summer of 2018.
The board pushed this project and several others back when it prioritized school entryway security as the most important infrastructure project last summer, after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and a shooting threat at Blackfoot High School during the 2018-19 school year. The district installed entryway security measures for all of its schools which didn’t already have them.
The new parking lots at MVMS feature fully separated bus and private vehicle pick-up and drop-off zones and crossings designed to maximize both student safety and driver convenience.
“I really like the idea of how the buses come in and turn around … and how parents have their own area to pick up students,” remarked trustee Carlos Mercado.
The parking lots and pick-up zones at Blackfoot High School have also been redesigned. Mercado added, “I like the new parking lots at the high school. I appreciate that it took a lot of work. Now that it’s all done, I would like some feedback on it. I would like to hear how we are doing exactly.”
Other over-the-summer projects included interior work at the high school, playground improvements at Fort Hall Elementary School, and new lighting at Wapello Elementary School.
“I want to commend our maintenance staff,” trustee Bonnie Hepworth said. “It’s amazing how much they have done (over the summer), especially in the (high school) basement.”
Trustee Mary Jo Marlow added, “I really way to mention the wonderful job with the weight room and with the lights at Wapello. It’s really something when they’re on, they’re so bright.”
Back-to-school night for parents, students, and other patrons is on Thursday from 5-6 p.m. for grades K-5, at each respective student’s school for the upcoming year.
Back-to-school night for the Blackfoot Heritage Sixth Grade School is also on Thursday but starts at 6 p.m.
The all-district-staff back-to-school event for teachers and staff for both the Blackfoot and Snake River districts is on Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center. The motivational speaker this year is education and social work expert Christian Moore, the “Resilience Guy” and founder of the WhyTry social outreach and education organization.
School starts on Aug. 28 for grades K-9 and on Aug. 29 for grades 10-12.
Suicide prevention will be on the agenda for the September school board meeting, which will be held at Blackfoot High School. The exact room at the high school for the meeting has not yet been announced. The meeting will begin with a 20-30-minute tour of the improvements for the high school completed over the summer.
There will be a presentation on sex education at Independence High School at the October school board meeting.
NEW ATHLETIC DIRECTOR
The board was introduced to the district’s new athletic director for the first time at Thursday’s meeting. Dwight Richins was hired in April to begin in Blackfoot at the start of the 2019-20 school year.
Richins just retired in June as the superintendent of the West Jefferson School District. Prior to that, he led Shelley High School to four state championships in division 3A, in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. He also led Teton High School to a state championship in division 2A in 1999. During his long career in education, Richins has been a teacher, coach, athletic director and superintendent.
Richins spoke to the board for over five minutes. “I love driving down the road to Blackfoot every day,” he remarked, comparing his new commute from his home in Shelley to his commute last year to Jefferson County.
Richins also outlined his many experiences in education, which includes parent and grandparent along with all of his professional positions. “I’ve seen the full spectrum of what it takes to educate our children … I can feel for everyone, every teacher, coach ... everybody, for what they have to do for our kids.”
District transportation manager Melissa Nichols spoke to the board on the district’s safety busing plan submission to the state and on the contract bid for the district’s new bus route.
“We have changes this year for our transportation program,” Nichols reported. “We have eliminated buses for (mid-day) Kindergarten and there are now no bus pick-ups before 7 a.m.”
The pushed-back schedules for bus pick-up affected four of the district’s bus routes. A new route was added at the recommendation of the patron committee which was assembled last school year to study whether to push back school start times in Blackfoot by a half hour.
Teton Stage Lines was the only bidder for the new route. They submitted a bid for $4 per mile.
“This is extremely reasonable for a bus route like this,” Kress told the board.
The trustees approved a five-year contract for Teton, after which the route will go up for bid at the same time as the rest of the district’s bus routes.
The board also approved the submission of the district’s safety busing plan to the state Department of Education, which runs Idaho’s Safety Busing Program. The state’s guidelines require that a new safety busing program plan be completed and submitted every three years.
Normally, school districts are not compensated by the state for transporting healthy students who live closer than 1.5 miles from their school. The Safety Busing Program steps in with compensation for students who live closer than that when safety hazards are present or when students have personal impediments which would prevent them from safely walking that far.
Participation in the Safety Busing Program provides monetary assistance for transportation for students who would otherwise encounter hazards like crossing the high-volume traffic corridors on Highway 91 or Bridge, Judicial and Meridian streets, open canals, and any streets without crosswalks, crossing signals or sidewalks — all of which are present in the district.
SCHOOL MEAL PRICES
Child nutrition manager DeeLane Worley asked the board to approve a 10-cent increase to all meal prices as recommended during the most recent financial audit. For the past several, meal prices were usually raised five cents annually.
The board approved the increase. Prices for the 2019-20 school will be: for breakfast, $1.95 for elementary students, $2.10 for secondary students and $2.60 for adults; and for lunch, $2.70 for elementary students, $2.90 for secondary students, and $3.95 for adults. These prices are about average when compared with other eastern Idaho school districts.
Prices for subsidized breakfast and lunch will stay at last year’s prices: 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast. The free lunch program will also remain the same.
Mercado asked about provisions and restrictions on the free and subsidized meal programs. “My concern is that we can have students going hungry.”
“We do not turn any child away,” Wolsey emphatically stated, referring to students who may have no money or not enough money for a meal. “We will never turn a child away.”
Wolsey also described the extensive provisions that the district’s food service staff uses to avoid child shaming and to protect child privacy for those in the free and subsidized meal programs. She also informed the board that there will be a food pantry this year at Independence High School and that the Idaho Food Bank was assisting the district with its student backpacks with weekend food for those who need it.
Two school board seats will be up for election in November, for zones 2 and 3, currently represented by trustees Mercado and Hepworth, respectively.
Paperwork to run for the school board can be picked up starting immediately from the district offices on Bridge Street, in the old Central School building behind the Blackfoot Heritage Sixth Grade School, or at the elections office at the Bingham County Courthouse.
Paperwork for running for election to the board must be turned in by close of business on Sept. 6 at the courthouse.
Kress reported that the district’s continuous improvement plan was filed with the Idaho Department of Education for the 2019-20, as required by state regulations.
The plan will soon be available to the public as one of the links at the bottom of the district’s webpage at d55.k12.id.us.
The board approved the district’s Personnel Activities Report policy for monthly reporting on tasks that are funded through federal funds.
“We’re just tightening up things for our policies and reporting,” assistant superintendent Ryan Wilson explained prior to the vote. The policy on activities reporting required its own agenda item and approval because it dealt with federal programs. Procedures affecting federal programs require a separate vote unlike more routine policies.