Lara Stone got a jump on her new job this week, taking the oath of office during a regular meeting of the Blaine County School District board of trustees two months before the Zone 5 delegate was scheduled to be sworn in.

The trustee-elect officially dropped the latter part of that title during Tuesday’s session, and immediately took her place on the board to represent the northeastern part of the county on the five-person panel.

It was a formality, really: Stone ran unopposed to replace former Trustee Kevin Garrison, and had been studying up for months prior to her term. When Garrison stepped down from the board on Oct. 21, three days after he was arrested on a pair of alcohol-related misdemeanors, Stone was contacted almost immediately.

No incumbents sought re-election earlier this month, meaning Stone will be one of three new faces on the board when the term starts in 2020. Attorney and former Hailey Mayor Keith Roark won the Zone 3 seat without a contest, and will replace board Chairwoman Ellen Mandeville. In the south, Amber Larna of Carey beat Bellevue’s Alexis Lindberg in a race to replace Zone 1 Trustee Ryan Degn.

New or not, few people in the past few years have spent as much time around the School District as Stone. Two years ago, she served as an at-large member of the ad-hoc Finance Committee, which pitched a successful split of the district’s plant facility levy to create a supplemental levy financing general operations. Though she wasn’t an official member of the most recent iteration, she attended nearly all the committee’s meetings in a support role, calculating costs and creating spreadsheets to value the school board’s prospective push for a new plant facility levy next year.

The role dovetails with Stone’s background. She grew up east of Seattle in Bellevue, Wash., and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in mathematics and a minor in computer science. After an internship with Microsoft, Stone moved to Ketchum in 1992, where she immediately began working at the investment firm Sun Valley Gold. She still does—for nearly 15 years as the chief operating officer. Today, her job involves a mix of oversight, human resources and outreach—though she still provides employee tech support, and designs software for the company to use.

All those skills should serve her on the school board, she said. And, they’ll help her reach out in the public, where she sees a disconnect between the School District and the people it serves.

“As a trustee, I intend to promote good governance, transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility,” she told the Idaho Mountain Express in an email. “I am particularly interested in improving the School District’s communication with the community.”

That work started as soon as she declared her candidacy. Stone met with more than 70 people during a “listening tour” to glean the major issues they saw facing the district. She said she intends to keep those two-way channels open now that she’s in office.

“I am a problem-solver by nature and look forward to the opportunity to rebuild relationships between the School District and the rest of our community,” she said.

The next step will come in early December.

Last week, Stone attended an Idaho School Board Association conference in Coeur d’Alene with her now-colleagues. There, she worked with association Leadership Development Specialist David Brinkman to work up questions for a “climate survey” to be administered to the public at large. On Tuesday, the full board—which previously approved the idea—finalized those questions, and authorized Brinkman to push the project forward.

“I see this as a chance for the board to grow with their community,” Brinkman said in a letter to the trustees. “That, to me, is valuable, and drives the work that we all do.”

For her part, Stone agrees. But, she’s careful to point out that the anonymous information will be stored on Idaho School Board Association servers outside the district. Stone wants to make the data public once it is finalized in the new year.

“I think we need to release the results,” she said prior to Tuesday’s vote on the survey. “It puts a stake in the ground. I’d like to see us do this regularly, and measure our progress.”

Progress—that’s what education is all about, after all.

“I was a public-school kid, and I’ve always been a big advocate for schools and students,” Stone told the Express. “My kids have had a great experience in our Blaine County public schools and I want other kids in Blaine County to have the same opportunities—or better—than my kids did.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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