BLACKFOOT – Blackfoot School District trustees held their monthly meeting on Thursday on the stage at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center (BPAC). The meeting included a discussion on long-term planning including the possible construction of a new elementary school and the conversion of Stoddard Elementary into a career and technical high school.
The meeting included a building tour and an hour-long presentation by the staff of Blackfoot High School. Other topics discussed covered the possible sale of school district land, the approval of required report submissions to the state, and the structure of teacher incentive premiums.
Superintendent Brian Kress presented his vision for the future of the school district. His suggested plan would see the construction of a new elementary school on the district’s property to the south of the high school’s soccer fields. The new school would accommodate 400-450 students.
Stoddard Elementary School would then be converted to a technical high school for students who aimed at being “workforce ready” immediately after graduation.
Such a plan would address the current enrollment stress at these two schools. Both Stoddard and Blackfoot High School must currently use modular classrooms for additional space.
“Of course, my ultimate dream would be a brand new high school, but that would burden our taxpayers with three to three and a half times what they are currently paying (on school-related bonds) — so my advice would be to annex Stoddard and go from there.”
The discussion that followed Kress’ presentation included leadership, funding and taxes.
“I waited until we were back on our (financial) feet before bringing this to the board,” Kress remarked, referring to the recovery of the district from its $1.4 million deficit five years ago.
Kress also recommended moving slowly and not presenting district taxpayers with any new bonds until the current BPAC bond is paid off on Aug.1, 2022.
“I will not take for granted the support of our patrons,” Kress said. “I can recommend but I can not lead. It’s not my place to campaign. This has to come from the board and the district parents and patrons. I have seen bond measures fail because of campaigning (by administrations) in other nearby districts.
“If the board wants to go forward, then this has to be a board-driven and patron-driven process.”
Kress also stated that a new bond to fund his plan would not cost more than what taxpayers are currently paying on the BPAC bond.
Trustee Mary Jo Marlow remarked that patron engagement would be key. “I’ve sat on multiple committees that have put forward bond proposals. Some of those failed.” She attributed failures and successes on how engaged parents and patrons were in the planning process.
Board chairman Dewane Wren remarked that patron involvement was essential for taxpayers to approve a bond.
“When we put out the BPAC bond proposal, we involved the community in the process and showed the public we weren’t just out to raise taxes. We worked on getting public support and also did fundraising to get donations.”
At the end of the discussion, the board asked Kress to create a timeline for the next 18-24 months on what would need to be done if the board wanted to go forward with converting Stoddard and with building a new elementary school.
The district was approached over the summer about the potential sale of property along the Blackfoot River.
The district owns the large empty field south of the high school soccer fields. The inquiry concerned the southernmost portion of this property, which is a narrow tongue of land between the river levee and houses along York Drive.
“There’s really not much that the district could use this land for,” Kress told the board. “When we first discussed this, the board raised concerns over where our property boundary was because of border conflicts with the Fort Hall Reservation.” The board directed Kress to investigate the matter.
The property line was confused when the Army Corps of Engineers straightened the course of the Blackfoot River during a 1962-64 flood control project. The confusions arose because the Fort Bridger treaty with the Shoshone and Bannock tribes established the northern boundary of the Fort Hall Reservation as the Blackfoot River. When the river course was changed by the Corps of Engineers, no one was sure who owned what afterward.
Kress reported to the board that the property-line dispute was addressed by the federal Blackfoot River Land Exchange Act of 2014. According to this act, all outstanding claims which arose from the river realignment were now extinguished. Instead, the federal Blackfoot River Flood Control District No. 7 was appointed to settle any claims and compensate land owners for any land lost from moving the river’s course.
Kress also reported that the land title consultant for the school district was unavailable but would be back soon to examine the exact location of the district’s land along the river. He said he would be able to give the board a complete report by their October meeting.
While Bingham County’s public land records do show the disputed parcels created by the river realignment, none of them appear to involve the district’s property between the high school soccer fields and the river levee.
BLACKFOOT HIGH SCHOOL
The meeting included a tour by high school Principal Roger Thomas and Vice Principal Joseph Abercrombie. The tour highlighted changes to Blackfoot High School made over the last two years, including the new security features on the school’s doors, new lockers, newly-painted hallways, new lights, a new computer room at the library and the features of the new weight room.
The tour was followed by a presentation by the department heads of the high school on their achievements and future goals.
The student council also made a presentation on their kindness campaign called ROY, which stands for “Reach Outside Yourself.” The ROY program will be covered in a separate article in the Bingham County Chronicle.
CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT PLAN
The board approved the district’s Continuous Improvement Plan as amended since the last board meeting. When reviewing the previous draft of this report, the board found a few errors in the qualitative data presented plus some text which needed minor editing.
The updated report was presented to the board which voted to approve it.
The Continuous Improvement Plan is a document which includes the district’s mission statement as well as its education goals for the upcoming school year. The State requires the submission of an updated report every year. The Blackfoot Schools also include the district’s Early Literacy Plan and College and Career Plan, which are also required by the state.
“This plan is very insightful about where we are and where we want to be” said trustee Sonya Harris. “I really appreciate Joy Mickelsen (the district’s federal programs director) and all the work she puts into this report.”
The Continuous Improvement Plan is available for perusal on the district’s website at https://docs.d55.k12.id.us/2019-20-Combined-Plan-Narrative.Blackfoot.SD.pdf.
The board approved the updated plan for the award of teacher premiums for the school year. The district administration and the Blackfoot Education Association worked together to structure this year’s teacher premiums plan.
“We made a change,” Kress remarked. “There has been some trepidation from our teachers but they are willing to give it a try.”
This new plan will be posted soon to the home page of the district’s website (bottom of the page, in the “For Parents” section, follow the link for “Leadership Plan”).
Teacher leadership premiums are designed as incentive awards for leadership and instructional achievement. They are authorized by state statute 33-1004.J. The details of how premiums will be awarded is left up to the individual school districts.
The outline of how these awards will be allotted in Blackfoot will be the same as last year with one change: one-third of the student achievement portion of the premiums will now depend on student performance on scores from the Idaho Reading Indicator and Idaho Student Achievement Tests.
Last year’s criteria can be read at https://docs.d55.k12.id.us/2019-20-Combined-Plan-Narrative.Blackfoot.SD.pdf.