Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Questions about Kuna school district spending

As the Kuna school district went out to the public in the past several weeks to discuss the district’s financial future, I started receiving calls and comments from readers asking about what they called questionable spending in the district.
I relayed the questions on to the school district, and the following is what was reported to me.
Lunch for the girls soccer team
The Kuna girls varsity soccer team was treated to lunch during the state soccer tournament, which was held in Middleton. The cost of the lunch was $265.
The lunch was paid for out of the Kuna High School vending machine account, which helps to pay for a variety of items including when teams go to a state level competition.
The expense was justified under the premise that given the locality of the state event, there were no costs for travel, lodging and meals associated with traveling to a more distant venue, which is often the case.
The amount budgeted for the account is $2,690.13. The current balance in the account is $2,551.23.
Sweatshirts given to the players were paid for by the United Dairymen of Idaho, not the school district.
Utility vehicle
Kuna High School purchased a new utility vehicle in October for $7,262.42.
It was purchased to replace a golf cart that was previously being used for security transportation that had reached its extended useful life and broke down. The cost to repair was beyond the value of the cart, according to Bryan Fletcher, the district’s business manager.
The new mule has more flexibility to be used for security purposes as well as other needs such as event set up, and possibly snow plowing, etc., according to Fletcher.
The seller is accepting payment over two years. The cost is being paid out of funds raised via the parking lot fee that Kuna High School charges for students who opt to drive to school.
Fletcher said that this was a budgeted item at Kuna High School with 50 percent paid for the item this year and the balance paid next year.
The 2011-12 estimated income for the parking lot fee account is $12,500. The starting balance was $0.00. Its current balance is $6,085.
Cell phones
There are 51 school district-funded cell phones. The amount of money spent on cell phones in 2010-11 was $29,310.09.
There are nine school district accounts that are charged for cell phone charges. Most of the accounts are used to pay for cell phones are also used to pay other expenses, according to Fletcher. For example, the account that pays for phone land lines also pays for cell phones, he said. Of the dedicated accounts for cell phones, they have a combined budget of $23,459. The balance is covered in these other accounts.
Cell phone charges are charged against: general fund; Title 6B Fund; State Migrant Fund; Professional Technical Fund; and the Child Nutrition Fund.
The list of school district employees who have a district-funded cell phone includes six technology employees, nine maintenance employees, seven principals, the two deans at the high school, the high school and middle school building administrators, the middle school activities director, the district superintendent and assistant superintendent, business manager, federal programs coordinator, assessment/data coordinator, projects manager, two nurses, a substitute nurse, two psychologists, five custodians, one transportation employee, one security employee, the high school work-based learning coordinator, three food service employees, special education employee and the regional migrant coordinator.
The five custodian phones and one maintenance phone are limited to press to talk communication and not accessible to external open lines.
The Kuna school district receives funding through a Federal program called ERate, which reimburses 37.07 percent of the district’s cell phones charges.
In addition, Fletcher said, the district uses cell phones in many places/locations in lieu of walkie-talkies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Head to Murphy this weekend for Chrismas Bazaar and Christmas Tree Sale

The Owyhee County Historical Society Christmas Bazaar and Silver City Christmas Tree Sale will be held Saturday, Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the OCHS Museum complex in Murphy. A chili cook-off by the Murphy Reynolds Wilson Fire Department will take place on Saturday. Christmas trees are priced at $10 and $15 depending on size. Local vendors will be selling their crafts. Please join us for fun, food and music both days.....The museum and book store will be open for your pleasure as well.
Vendors can still apply. Cost is $25 per table. For additional information please call 495-2319. Murphy is located 30 miles south of Nampa off Highway 78.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meridian Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert comes to Kuna this week

Start a family tradition with the Meridian Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra's next performance will be a Christmas Celebration with your favorite music of the holiday season. This concert will be performed at the Kuna Performing Arts Center on Friday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at the orchestra’s ticket outlets in Boise, Meridian, Nampa and Eagle. Tickets are also available at the door. Visit for more information.
The Meridian Symphony Orchestra will also be performing the concert at the Meridian Middle School Auditorium on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kuna school district committee will tackle the matter of the future of schools

The Kuna school district is looking for “outside-the-box thinkers” for a committee on the school district’s future amid diminished resources.
The school district wrapped up a series of meetings with the public, which the district estimates about 100 parents attended. The district has received about 90 responses from its online survey.
The next step is to seat a committee that will look at the survey data and begin exploring various options being suggested.
The survey consists of three questions:
• “What are some things you value most about Kuna’s schools?”
• “What are your concerns about the education of your child or a child you know who attends the Kuna School District?”
• “If you left the Kuna School District and returned in 10 years to find that the Kuna School District is a leading edge educational system, what new things would you see?”
Superintendent Jay Hummel said he would like to have a committee in place sometime this month. In addition to patrons, he said the committee should have school board members, business leaders, administrators and possibly city officials, as well.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Community newspapers rate high in local news preference, according to NNA survey

Here is a story from our community newspaper trade organization, the National Newspaper Association. This kind of goes along with the editorial I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a world without newspapers.

Readers in areas served by community newspapers continue to prefer the community newspaper as their sources of local news and advertising. The 2011 results of an annual survey conducted by the National Newspaper Association and the research arm of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism show that 74 percent of people in communities served by a newspaper with circulations under 15,000 read a local newspaper each week.
The survey, in its sixth year, shows consistent trends.
Readers prefer the printed copy to the online version, with 48 percent saying they never read the local news online.
They prefer to receive advertising through the newspaper (51 percent) instead of on the Internet (11 percent). And only about a quarter of respondents said they had found local news through a mobile device in the past 30 days. Slightly more (38 percent) said they had received local shopping information by mobile device.
They also have a strong preference for government accountability through newspaper public notice, with 80 percent saying the government should be required to publish notices in the newspaper.
NNA President Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County (Minn.) Monitor-News in Benson, Minn., said the study demonstrates that citizens believe in newspapers.
“The survey shows a majority of respondents believe that the newspaper does a better job of providing background and depth on stories essential to citizens,” Anfinson said. “Further, the newspaper is more useful to them personally than any other news source. It not only highlights the strong bond between local communities and their newspapers, but demonstrates that people do value good journalism.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What will the future school look like?

One of the questions the Kuna school district is posing to patrons got me intrigued: “If you left the Kuna School District and returned in 10 years to find that the Kuna School District is a leading edge educational system, what new things would you see?”
Of course, given the context, we’re talking about a school of the future with less money to educate our children.
So, here we go, my stab at the school of the future in Idaho. Not only did I try to take into account the notion of less money, but I also wanted to incorporate some of what I’d like to see in the future, namely, longer days and longer school years and smaller class sizes.
First, the school day would be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. One half of students would be in a traditional classroom setting for the three hours in the morning, and the other half would be in a traditional classroom setting for three hours in the afternoon. Here’s how a typical student’s schedule might look:
9 a.m. to noon: traditional classroom time with his or her primary grade-specific teacher.
12 to 12:30 p.m.: Lunch.
12:30 to 1 p.m.: Recess.
1 to 1:30 p.m.: Gym or online learning in the school’s online learning lab.
1:30 to 2 p.m.: Online learning in the school’s online learning lab.
3 to 2:30 p.m.: Music or online learning.
2:30 to 3 p.m.: Art or homework time.
3 to 3:30 p.m.: Library or homework time.
3:30 to 4 p.m.: “Homework” time.
For the other half of the students, the schedule would be reversed, with the traditional classroom time in the afternoon and gym, online, music, library and art in the morning. Similarly, recess would be from 12 to 12:30, and lunch would be 12:30 to 1 p.m.
OK, so what does this accomplish? First of all, you’re going to have fewer teachers.
Here’s how it works. Currently, a typical school might have a teacher structure that looks like this:
Kindergarten: 90 students, 3 teachers.
1st grade: 90 students, 3 teachers (30 students per class).
2nd grade: 90 students, 3 teachers.
3rd grade: 90 students, 3 teachers.
4th grade: 90 students, 3 teachers.
5th grade: 90 students, 3 teachers.
Total: 540 students, 18 teachers.
Assuming each teacher makes an average of $42,000 per year, the cost of the classroom teaching staff salaries would be $756,000.
(As an aside, I would put sixth-graders in the middle school, but they would be quarantined by themselves with their own teacher and own lunch period and venturing out of their “wing” only for gym and music when the halls are empty. So elementary school goes back to K-5.)
Under the new structure, each teacher would have 22 or 23 students in the morning session and 22 or 23 students in the afternoon. It would look like this:
Kindergarten: 90 students, 2 teachers (22 or 23 students per class).
1st grade: 90 students, 2 teachers.
2nd grade: 90 students, 2 teachers.
3rd grade: 90 students, 2 teachers.
4th grade: 90 students, 2 teachers.
5th grade: 90 students, 2 teachers.
Total: 540 students, 12 teachers.
Cost of the teaching staff would now be reduced to $504,000, a savings of $250,000 just in salary, not counting benefits.

You can read the rest of this column in this week's issue of the Kuna Melba News.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kuna Boys & Girls Club public hearing before the city gets pushed back to December

A public hearing for a proposed Kuna Boys & Girls Club, originally scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 23, has been postponed.
The proposal will now go before the Kuna Planning & Zoning Commission for a public hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 14, during a meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. at Kuna City Hall, 763 W. Avalon St.
The Boys & Girls Club is seeking city approval for a lot line adjustment, a zone change, a development agreement and a comprehensive plan map amendment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are you interested in serving on the Kuna Planning & Zoning Commission?

The city of Kuna is seeking applications from those who are interested in serving on the city of Kuna’s Planning and Zoning Commission for a three-year time period.
It is anticipated there will be three open positions on the five-member board at the beginning of the year. This position is volunteer, and the board meets generally once or twice a month, depending on building and development activity.
Those interested in this position should have some familiarity with local government, and knowledge of land use planning would be a plus. Those interested in this position must have resided in the city of Kuna or Ada County for at least two years prior to their appointment and must remain a resident of the city or the county during their service on the commission.
If you are interested in this public service role, please submit a letter of interest to Maranda Obray, Kuna City Hall, 763 W. Avalon St., Kuna, ID 83634.
If you have any questions about this position, call the Kuna planning department at 922-5274.
How about you City Council candidates who didn't win a seat? I hear Dan Johnson has already expressed interest.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kuna City Council gives seniors a break on rent

Kuna City Council members unanimously agreed to waive rent for the Kuna Senior Citizens Association for the months of November and December for use of the Kuna Senior Center.
The seniors have been displaced from the senior center for the past several weeks because of problems with a new floor at the center, part of a $72,000 federal grant secured by the city.
Efforts to put in a polished concrete floor have stalled from the very beginning, when asbestos was discovered in the center’s original floor tiles. Then the floor began to haze due to too much moisture in the floor, which became trapped by the floor sealant. Subsequent attempts to fix the floor have been unsuccessful.
The Kuna Senior Citizens Association has been meeting temporarily at the Kuna United Methodist Church. Rent at the senior center is $300 per month. The Methodist Church is not charging the Senior Citizens Association for use of the church.
Kuna City Council members agreed to waive the November and December rent at the Nov. 1 City Council meeting. The city owns the senior center building.
More to come in next week's issue of the Kuna Melba News on this matter.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't let the squirrels steal Christmas in Melba

The good folks in Melba tell me that some squirrels got hungry and found the city's Christmas tree lights a delightful dinner.
The lighting of the Melba city Christmas tree is the fitting finale of the community celebration Christmas in Melba. The hungry squirrels feasted on the strings of lights, causing extensive damage. That means all the lights must be replaced.
The Christmas in Melba project is completely volunteer and is not funded by any organization. We are currently looking for generous citizens who would like to donate funds to purchase new lights. If you are able to contribute to this great community event, please contact Beth Cole at 941-7541. We are anxious to get things ready for the Dec. 7 celebration, so call today!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Followup to last week's Kuna city elections

First and foremost, I would like to extend a sincere and hearty thank you to Scott Dowdy and Jeff Lang for their service to the city of Kuna for the past eight years and to Lisa Bachman for her service over the past four years. Having been to nearly every City Council meeting, budget workshop, protest hearing, special meeting, etc. for the past five years, I can personally testify to the amount of time, hard work and personal sacrifice it takes to do the jobs of mayor and City Council member. It’s more than just showing up for a couple of hours for a meeting a couple of times a month.
The other thing that gets lost, I think, for those who don’t attend the meetings, is the sincerity with which many public officials do their jobs. Agree or disagree with them, I firmly believe that Scott, Jeff and Lisa have acted in what they consider the public good. (It is disheartening, given the amount of time elected officials devote to public service, that there were about 4,000 registered voters in Kuna who could not take 15 minutes out of their day on Nov. 8 to vote.)
To Briana Buban-Vonder Haar and Joe Stear, I offer congratulations. I think you both ran excellent campaigns and did your homework. You clearly knew the issues and investigated them for yourselves. If you apply the same type of work ethic to the City Council, we will be well-served.
To Greg Nelson, I also offer congratulations. You clearly articulated your views and took a strong stand on many issues. Your message clearly resonated with a majority of residents. Your call for citizen involvement and council interaction is refreshing and welcome. Your desire to scrutinize the budget and contracts in an open, public manner is commendable. I think voters responded favorably to your vocal desire to seek solutions to what the community sees as problems, whether it’s the cost of doing business in Kuna or the LID or the senior center floor. At least openly articulating the complex issues behind the problems will be a welcome change.
But let me also offer a word of caution.
I think it is interesting that the electorate gave you a clear mandate — more than a majority in a three-way race — but the voters also overwhelmingly elected Stear and Buban-Vonder Haar, who perhaps could be considered the more moderate candidates.
After all, Buban-Vonder Haar and Stear vocally defended the current police services contract, for example. They also expressed caution and urged cooperation and greater communication on a broad range of issues, not unilateral action.
It seems to me that the residents sent the message that they want a change but they want to temper it with moderation and careful consideration.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vote Tuesday in Kuna city elections

You have no excuses. Vote Tuesday in the Kuna city elections. If you live in the city of Kuna, you'll be asked to vote for mayor and two city council members.
All of the information is now available online in the Kuna Melba News online voter guide at There you'll find more than enough information to make a truly educated decision.
As a bonus, you'll also be pretty much caught up on just about every city issue that's come up over the past couple of years — planning and zoning regulations, the police budget, the LID and more.
So just spend a little time reading over the stories at, then get out and vote on Tuesday. Polls open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kuna City Council doesn't pull the trigger on weapons discharge ordinance

Kuna City Council members likely will vote in December on a new city ordinance that prohibits the discharge of weapons in city limits.
Council members got another look at the proposed ordinance Tuesday night but realized they hadn’t noticed the ordinance for a public hearing. City attorney Richard Roats said he would publish a legal notice for a public hearing, likely for one of the meetings in December. An added paragraph of the ordinance allows for hunting in certain areas of large unoccupied land within city limits.
Candidates in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting were Kuna City Council incumbent Jeff Lang, running for re-election, Joe Stear, Dan Johnson and Chris Howard.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Here's what I'd like to see the newspaper industry try

I’d like to see the newspaper industry come together for one week — that’s about all it would take — and have a news blackout.
For one whole week, newspapers all across the country, dailies and weeklies, corporate-owned, independents, alt-weeklies, big metros would do no independent reporting of the news.
The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Idaho Statesman, The Kuna Melba News — all of us, no reporting.
Let’s just see what happens. Websites would go dark. The Associated Press content would go down by 80 percent. Local TV newscasts would have nothing to report on except for press releases from police departments.
You know who the big winners would be? Rick Lantz, Scott Dorval and Vin Crosby. That’s because the weather would get 20 minutes of air time each night instead of 10. The other 10 minutes would be devoted to Boise State football.
City governments everywhere, knowing that no one is watching them, would vote to give themselves raises or try to get $5 million for a new city hall and swimming pool. State legislators would take housing and per diem allowances and sleep at their mom and dad’s house. In the midst of a recession and high unemployment, state agencies would give out $90,000 in bonuses to state employees. A nonprofit water users association would lend their director $130,000 to buy and redecorate his house.
And then, at the end of the week, it would be the American public, tottering at the bridge railing, yelling, “Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”
For those who are curious: Newspapers were the No. 1 choice for those who wanted to know about community events, crime, taxes, local government, arts and culture, social services and development. Newspapers tied with other alternatives in four other subject areas: housing, schools, jobs and local political news. The two news topics where TV came in first? Weather and breaking news.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Imagine a world without newspapers

I recently read an infuriating article from the Los Angeles Times about a Pew Research Center survey that shows a disconnect by news consumers about where their news comes from.
Here’s the gist: When consumers were asked what their No. 1 choice for news was in 16 subjects, they rated newspapers as the top source in 11 of those subjects.
However, when they were asked what would happen if there were no newspaper, 69 percent — more than two-thirds — said there would be little or no impact on their ability to keep up with local news.
This jibes with my experience as a weekly newspaper editor over the past five years. People say all the time, “Oh, well, people are getting all their news online now,” as if all that online news just kind of magically appears.
Secondly, I severely limit how much news I put on our website because I want to encourage people to subscribe to the printed product. So, for example, when the Kuna school district was seeking voter approval of a $1.5 million supplemental levy this year, I wasn’t putting the full stories online — and I know for a fact that no one else was doing any reporting on the subject, not the other newspapers and certainly not the television stations.
So from that I can deduce that residents were not “getting their news online” about the supplemental levy.
And yet, here we are, the newspaper industry with this massive perception problem, which I consider to be a product of horrible marketing.
A supermajority of people think that if newspapers went away, they would have no problem getting local news.
I’m having an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment here. Imagine, if you will, Jimmy Stewart, not the owner of a savings and loan but as the owner of his local newspaper. He’s tottering at the railing of the bridge, ready to jump in and kill himself. Recognizing that would hurt his family, he instead tells his guardian angel, “I wish I’d never been born.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kuna City Council expected to have a lot on its plate tonight

Kuna City Council members are taking up the issue of rental fees at city parks and the senior center.
The city is putting all rental fees into one resolution in order to centrally locate the fees in one place that can be referred to in other ordinances and resolutions. One of the reasons for doing that is efficiency. If the city decides to change the fees at some point, it can be done in one single resolution, rather than making changes in several places all over city code.
In the process of doing that, though, council members discussed the possibility of reducing fees.
The resolution was presented to council members on Oct. 18 and is expected to come before them again next week at their meeting on Nov. 1.
Council member Rich Cardoza said he would prefer to see one flat fee at the city park, rather than a graduated system based on the number of people.