The Blaine County School District is closing in on a housing assistance program aimed to help new hires enter the district—and allow existing teachers to stay.

The result, according to Trustee Dan Turner, could mean thousands of dollars in rental assistance to housing-burdened faculty as soon as next year.

Approximately 20% of BCSD employees rent homes, according to a July survey of 313 staff members conducted by the Donovan Group, the district’s communications firm. Those are mostly staff who have worked for the district fewer than five years. Of them, 60% have seen rents rise in the past year, according to the report, and 73% have considered leaving the district due to the high cost of housing. Half of all respondents said they knew a colleague who has already left.

The preliminary plan Turner pitched during the board’s regular meeting this week would see applicants submit financial information to a third-party organization, which would then determine whether a staffer is rent burdened—meaning they pay more than 30% of their income for housing, per federal definitions. The district’s finance department would then pay them a monthly stipend, which would be exempt from taxes and benefit calculations. Employees would be obligated to pay the entire amount back if they stay employed by the district for just a year, a portion if they stay one-to-three years, and none if they stay more than three years.

District Finance Manager Cheryl Sanderson estimated that around 150 employees would qualify, with payouts averaging $500 per month. At that rate, a two-year pilot program would cost approximately $1 million, she said.

“Can it be effective? Can it solve all our problems? The short answer is no,” Turner said. “What we’re looking at is multi-step and multipronged. And, it’s an imperative.”

Eventually, the district will weigh building its own housing on its own property. That’s still two to five years out. Until then, Turner said the “emergency” measure was necessary.

Earlier this summer, Turner put out a call to the Sun Valley Board of Realtors asking for help finding rental units for new teachers. He called the results “encouraging but limited.”

Human Resources Director Brooke Marshall elaborated. Most options passed along to the district were out of range for prospective renters, typically $2,500 to $3,100 per month, she said. The cheapest option was a single room in a shared house for $900.

Most of the new teachers hired this year started in the mid-$50,000 range, Turner said. That would put them in the market for a place around $1,400 per month. (Depending on education and experience, Blaine teachers make between $45,667 and $90,722 for 185 days of work—37 weeks, according to the 2020-21 contract.)

“We know what’s available in the community at that level, and it’s basically nothing,” Turner said.

Housing burden is based on household income, meaning it is calculated against the sum multiple earners. So far, the district doesn’t know how that will affect eligibility, Sanderson said.

“We’re going to learn a lot once we start vetting,” she said.

On Tuesday, the board instructed Turner to return in October with a more detailed plan, including methodology for prioritizing applicants and a sliding scale for need. If approved next month, the program could start paying out in early 2022.

“The need is so great right now,” Turner said. “Anything we can do is going to help our staff in a big way.”

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