Uncategorized May 11, 2016

House Bill 0570 Innovative School Syringa Letter to the Editor

HB570, the Local Innovation School Act, passed nearly unanimously this legislative session, and nothing like it has ever been seen here in Idaho. It was the law's intent that excited and fueled the Syringa School Board's recent actions seeking dialogue with the BCSD Board of Trustees (Serving Ketchum, Sun Valley, Elkhorn, Warm Springs, Mid Valley, Hailey, Bellevue, and Carey). HB570's raison d'etre was to drive improvement in Idaho’s public education system by paving the way for and facilitating education innovation to occur at the local level and with local control. The Act invited Idaho School District Boards and local  innovative schools  to consider ways to innovate together, in partnership, and for the benefit of their youngest patrons, their students, in what ever ways they saw fit. The Act created the possibility of new and different local conversations about harnessing the value of different public school choices for families by all occurring under one roof.

The outcome of the BCSD Board meeting last night was not surprising, even if unpalatable for Syringa, considering the great pressure the BCSD Trustees are under to cut 1.5 million dollars from their coffers, to realign their spending to live within a balanced budget, and to represent the competing interests of their diverse constituency of 500+employees, 6000 tax payer patrons and 3200 students. We all can understand the complexity and challenge they grapple with as trustees and public servants.

Ultimately, a sobering future most likely awaits BCSD, and other financially well endowed school districts, as the national and state discourse continues to focus on the inequity of public school funding, as the richer districts acquire all the newest educational trappings, and everyone else struggles to pass a local bond levy to repair a leaking roof or to raise teacher salaries enough to attract the kind of educators their students deserve and demand. It is no surprise our Governor and Legislature have formed a task force to examine Idaho's antiquated public school funding formula amidst the public concern and even outrage at the inequities found even in our state. It will be an interesting couple of years, as Idaho joins the majority of states who are grappling with this very issue-equity, fairness, adequacy of public school funding. And it is as it should be, that these issues are being debated on behalf of our children.    

The Syringa Board was seeking dialogue with BCSD, but was never afforded that opportunity. Syringa is thriving as an innovative,  rigorous and balanced public school choice in our valley. Now only completing their second year, it has been challenging to provide the truly enriched curriculum within the confines of the state $6,000 per student allocation. But they have prevailed, and flourished even under the financial burden. Community members have marveled at the quality of their program, their lean/mean infrastructure, and their early success, all accomplished within the constraints of their inadequate funding.

And they are not alone. Every charter school in the state faces the same reality of having to fundraise to close the gap between what the state funds and what it actually requires to provide a quality education. Our parents are not alone in questioning the state restriction that prohibits charter schools from accessing the local tax base, a base that parents and employees support yet their children do not  benefit from. We understand that it is just a matter of time until that changes here in Idaho. And we look to other states like Colorado and Minnesota who have been and continue to be in the forefront of fueling local innovation and choice,  and cracking the code of old school, entrenched bureaucratic practices and expenditures that no longer serve our children and families.

Unfortunately and inevitably, the conversation immediately lept to "our funding versus yours", and that's where it stayed. So unfortunate when there was such potential for discourse and fodder for collaboration. Just sharing the BCSD transportation system alone would have been a ripe starting place, to work collaboratively to reduce the carbon footprint, the traffic, and benefit from the economies of scale when both education agencies pooled there state transportation monies. But alas, the conversation ended before it even started.         

Board service is a noble calling, and requires the ultimate sacrifice and selflessness to do the work as it is intended and for the greater good. The Syringa Board appreciates the circumstances underlying the BCSD's Trustees decisions, but mourns the missed opportunity for both the BCSD and SMS Boards to create something truly different and innovative together for the benefit of our Blaine County Students and Families.  

The current education landscape is changing, albeit slowly, and public school choice will continue to be the sirens call both in Idaho and nationally. No doubt both of our local public education organizations will continue to thrive. Soon to enter its third year, Syringa will continue to stabilize its roots in our community, and flourish, and pursue collaborations where none have existed before. And most probably, valley students will continue to explore the "other" education choices our valley has to offer, to find their best fit in the array of quality education choices we all enjoy. And that is as it should be.