Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year's resolution for the Kuna school board

Let me preface this column by saying that I think the Kuna school district is doing a lot of things right. We have some phenomenal teachers and administrators in the school district. In no way do I want to diminish their extraordinary efforts at educating Kuna’s students.
Second, let me say that I believe Idaho’s funding levels for public education are nearing a breaking point. What the Kuna school district is going through right now is a deep and necessary examination of what that public education system would look like once we break through that breaking point. Whether we will be able to improve education in Idaho with even less money remains a serious doubt in my mind.
With that said, the Kuna school district simply has to do a better job at transparency. School board members and district officials bemoan low turnout at public meetings and call for greater public input.
But I think I echo a widespread feeling that the school district just isn’t laying all of its cards on the table.
Readers of this column know that I have repeatedly called on the school district to post entire school board packets online. Not only has this not happened, now the district isn’t even posting the agenda anymore. The last agenda posted was in August. So how about it? Does the school district really want public participation?
With an extremely talented technology staff, I have no doubt that posting the agenda — and the school board packets — would be a relatively simple matter. After all, the district’s technology staff prioritized a redesign of the high school newspaper’s website. But we can’t get the school board packets — nay, not even the agenda — on the website.
Furthermore, the district administration routinely uses PowerPoint presentations at school board meetings. That’s all well and good and is very helpful to the school board members and the audience (if there is one). But the downside is that there’s no public record of that presentation once the presentation is over. Why not make that PowerPoint presentation available to the public before the meeting, as a link, from the agenda that’s posted on the district website?
That way, a school district voter could, if he or she wanted to, print out the presentation at home and bring it to the meeting to follow along.
I find it disingenuous for the school district to say it wants greater public involvement and yet requires the local newspaper to file a Freedom Of Information Act request just to get the school board packet every month.
A recent column about the district spending $265 on lunches for the soccer team, $7,262 on a new golf cart and $29,000 on cell phones only makes one wonder what other expenditures might be out there.
Kuna families are now paying sometimes hundreds of dollars just to send their children to school in the form of ID cards, activity cards, parking fees, participation fees, locker rental fees, etc. Is there an accounting of these funds, what’s in these funds, what these funds are spent on and who authorizes the spending?
So here’s what I’d like to see the school district start doing:
• Post the school board agenda every month on the district’s website, preferably on the Friday before the meeting.
• Post every document that is associated with that month’s school board meeting every month, preferably on the Friday before the meeting.
• Post every district PowerPoint presentation from that month’s school board meeting every month — in advance of the meeting.
If it seems like this is asking a lot, it’s not. The city of Kuna has been doing this now for the past couple of years, and the city of Kuna doesn’t have an entire technology department, like the district. If the city of Kuna can get this done, certainly the school district could get it done — if it wanted to. (You can see what I’m talking about by going to and pulling up any one of their City Council or Planning & Zoning agendas.)
As we enter 2012, which promises to be a potentially challenging year for the Kuna school district, I am calling on school board members Jim Ford, Ginny Greger, Kevin Gifford, Royleen Anderson and Carl Ericson to please get this done on behalf of the people who voted for you.

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