The Blaine County School District (BCSD) Board of Trustees has two seats up for election on Nov. 2.

Competing for the seat for north county Zone 4 are incumbent Daniel Turner and challenger Juanita Young.

Turner has been on the school board since June 2020 after applying to fill a vacancy. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. Although the 64-year-old is semi-retired from finance, he still trades stocks. Otherwise, he does not-for-profit work in town, including an eight-year term on the board of the Wood River Community YMCA.

Young is self-employed, with a bachelor’s degree in science. Both her children attended the Blaine County School system from K-12, during which time she helped out in the classroom.

The Zone 2 seat will be uncontested. Sitting Trustee Gretchen Gorham filled a vacancy to represent the district when no one from that area volunteered, but she doesn’t live in the district and can’t seek reelection for the seat. That leaves Blanca Romero running unopposed after Tammy Prosper withdrew due to unexpected health concerns.

“I support Blanca for Zone 2 and encourage her to be a voice for BCSD students,” Prosper said.

Romero is the program manager at The Hunger Coalition. This is the 35-year old’s first foray into public service.

The Express asked the candidates to speak up on six key questions. Read their answers below, lightly edited for concision.

Romero: For me, the biggest thing that comes up is appropriate representation because of how much of our population is Hispanic, and we have no Hispanic people on the school board.

Turner: The biggest issue is to keep them safe and keep them in class. Student achievement is always the north star of what we’re trying to do as a school board. The hybrid and remote models we went through in the last year and a half were a struggle for a lot of kids. We see [that] through the test scores and everything. We do our best work when kids are in class, and they’re working with our very talented teaching staff.

Young: The biggest issue facing our children is the same issue that the whole country is facing: the creation of division. We have to all work together to not let our politicians tear us apart.

Romero: I think they’ve done as good of a job as they can. In the very beginning, COVID hit us, and we didn’t know what to expect. They were doing the best that they could. For the situation we were in, I think they did a pretty good job.

Turner: Well, as they say, it was our first pandemic. A lot of it was just trying to use the best science, the best information that we could. Traditionally, a school board meets 12 times a year. We met, I think, 56 times last year to try to understand where we were in relation to the pandemic, where we were in relation to our protocols, and how we could get kids back to a five-day learning model. I would rank us pretty high. I think we made good decisions all the way along. Again, you only have the information that’s current in front of you when you make those decisions. [We have] a very hard-working board that takes its job very seriously and tries to assimilate all the new information that was coming at us then change the learning model as we could until we got all the kids back in class in the spring. But it was an unprecedented period. In the midst of that, we were able to make some significant changes in the district leadership. How could we get these kids back safely? That was our motivating principle throughout the year.

Young: I support a parent’s right to do what they think is right for their child.

Romero: At this time, I do. I have two children who are in the school district, and they have told me themselves they would prefer to go to a school with masks even if its 24 hours a day compared to being at home doing online learning. The attendance rate this year has been really, really high, and the mask mandate, I’m sure, has quite a bit to do with that.

Turner: Yeah, I do. I think it’s a layer of protection. It’s not perfect. It’s proven to be able to keep kids in class. I’m very proud to be one of the first school districts in Idaho to stand behind that mandate. We’ve had, with rare exception, more kids in class. The superintendent reported [on Oct. 12] we have 94% attendance, which would be pretty high even if we weren’t wearing masks. So, the fact that there’s a pandemic and we’re having those kinds of attendance numbers, shows that we’ve done the right thing. Again, trying to keep the kids safe, keep them out of a quarantine type situation. We know that when kids are out of class, they start seeing these gaps in certain groups, and it’s something that we need to avoid at all costs.

Young: I am not opposed to masking, nor do I support masking. I think the government needs to stay out of the health industry. I wonder how they let McDonald’s stay open, but a healthy food [restaurant] has to close. Do you really think the government is interested in your health?

Romero: I need to do more research on that before I can truly say I have an opinion.

Turner: That’s kind of right in my wheelhouse. My background is in finance. My first involvement with the district was through a plant and facilities levy committee back in 2018. The district’s got $126 million of fixed assets and they need maintenance. There’s always going to be an ongoing need to raise money to service that plant and facility aspect of our district. We are faced with, generally, a flat revenue model after the 2006 stabilization levy, which fixed the local tax contribution to the district at $29.6 million. You add that to the state that ranks 51st in the nation in per-people funding, you come out with a pretty flat revenue model. Against that, we’ve had increased needs in things like technology, the “people costs” of running a district, which are salaries and benefits. The financial model will always be challenging. How do we drive enough productivity to make it work? So, a plant facilities levy is something we need to consider. We’re currently going through a district audit right now, a facilities audit. That will give us a very good handle on where we are vis-à-vis different systems. We’re trying to get to a real data driven model when it comes to evaluating our systems. It’s not something the district has always done. I am proud that we are now undertaking a process where we can really quantify the serviceable life of every piece of equipment we have in this district and then figure out the appropriate way to fund that.

Young: I have submitted some questions to the BCSD public record department. They are: What did the school district do with the $3,290,344 they received in COVID relief, and what did they have to do to receive said money? How much money have they received from the lottery, and how is it being spent? Until these questions are answered, I cannot comment on the levies.

Romero: Look into the practices of the teachers and how they’re teaching. Pay attention to the biases that might be involved in these teachings, where one student who is white might be treated a little bit differently than a brown student or a Hispanic student. These unintentional biases have some to do with that. I experienced some bias when I was going to high school in Twin Falls.

Turner: Our goal should be to lift all students. I think kids at both ends of the spectrum need to be raised to their full potential. But, when you’re looking at these persistent gaps you see between Hispanic and the other populations, there’s so many factors at play there. We’ve got an incredibly talented team of educators to identify a child’s skills and what skills they lack. How do you get those interventions directly on the kids that need them? It’s an ongoing issue, but I am very data-driven and very focused on outcomes. We know where the issues are. We know where the opportunities are. I think we’ve got a good set of resources to apply to them. It’s not something that’s going to go away overnight. But, it’s something we’re very attuned to and very concerned about.

Young: I am not sure about achievement, though I do know it is imperative that parents participate in the classroom. I am not happy they are constantly shut out in the district. There are plenty of studies out there showing how children scoring dramatically improves when parents are active in the classroom. I do not know if you are aware of the recent study showing children’s IQ has decreased since COVID. They feel it is because of hypoxia—lack of oxygen to the brain.

(Editors note: The Express could not verify the existence of such a study.)

Romero: I think one thing that’s missing is probably an early education program. We have kindergarten classes that are all-day long, but I think we need to have pre-school classes as well so we can get students enrolled into schools and start their education a little bit earlier, if they need that additional assistance before they make it to kindergarten.

Turner: Coming from my background, I think all kids need a high degree of financial literacy. I would like to see a curriculum to advance those kinds of things. We live in a community with incredible resources. I think it’s necessary for the district to look into the community and try to draw up some of those resources into our schools to help move these kids forward and unleash their potential. That’s one of my real hopes with being on the board: to focus on the collaborative nature of this community, when there’s so many groups out there that are willing to help to fill some gaps where we might not be able to be completely up to speed. Whether that’s providing after school care or summer school, there’s a massive amount of collaborative horsepower in the community. I think it’s incumbent on the school district to be outward facing and accept some resources.

Young: I want to see parents attending the school board meetings. I have heard nothing but complaints from parents that they are not allowed to stand up and voice their opinions in person. If [Board Chairman] Keith [Roark] has a problem with this—I understand he does not like dissension— then perhaps he needs to step down. Everyone would understand that the school board is not for him.

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