Wood River High School, Lisa Hoskins

Lisa Hoskins teaches accounting at Wood River High School on Monday, Feb. 28. The school district is hoping educational incentives will help retain current teachers, and convert other employees into educators.

The Blaine County School District board of trustees is moving forward with a plan to help existing staff acquire bachelor’s, master’s or technical degrees in hopes of retaining local employees and providing them with the necessary credentials to stay in the area, or to transition to full-time teaching roles.

Applicants to the “grow your own” program must already be full-time employees in good standing with the Blaine County School District. They must also receive a recommendation from a supervisor and complete a “request to participate” form. Applicants then need to fill out a FAFSA—Free Application for Federal Student Aid—form to determine if there is available funding that could offset the program cost.

Current participating universities include Western Governors University, Grand Canyon University, Northwest Nazarene University, College of Southern Idaho and Idaho State University.

Prior to meeting with the trustees this week, BCSD Human Resources Director Brooke Marshall conducted a survey among staff that had previously participated in or had heard of similar educator-retention programs. The survey received 64 responses, with 28 saying that they would “definitely” be interested in the implementation of such a program.

Based on the survey, the board instructed staff to plan for 40 spaces in the first wave. If approved, participants would either receive payment upfront or request reimbursement to cover tuition fees, textbooks and other associated costs.

Each applicant can receive up to $10,000 annually for tuition fees, textbooks, etc., which would bring the yearly cost to $400,000 if all 40 open spaces are completely subscribed.

Based on the large number of teachers expected to retire from the district, as well as Idaho’s overall teacher shortage, BCSD Finance Directory Cheryl Sanderson told the board she believes the program could be paid for out of the district’s emergency funds.

“I think this really does fall within the district’s policy of use of emergency funds,” Sanderson said. “I do believe we could fund this program for two years to use that as our test to see how well it is working.”

In a meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Jim Foudy expressed support for the program.

“We are looking for approval to give us time to message this to our staff, allowing staff to the subsequently apply for admissions to colleges and universities,” he said. “We are confident that we can work with employees and pay for the costs outright because the cost is too much of a burden to them right now.”

There are still details that need to be worked out before launching the program, trustees said—namely, the financial specifics. The board hopes to implement it in the fall. 

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