I would like to respond to Dale Courtney’s Daily News Opinion column, “It’s time to downsize the Moscow School District” published July 7. I found some of Courtney’s statements to be incorrect, misleading or biased. I concluded Courtney was attempting to lead people towards the misinformed view that the Moscow School District was wasting taxpayer’s money and carelessly trying to maintain all their schools when they were not needed.
I will not disagree that the Moscow School District student population has decreased the past 30 years. I would, however, remind Courtney and readers there was an impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic the past two school years. Students that usually would have been enrolling in kindergarten were held back for a year as this is an age level when socialization, as well as hands on learning, are highly encouraged. We also had students who opted to be home-schooled during the pandemic as a precautionary measure. We are expecting these students to return if we do not see another high-risk scenario caused by the pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19, our numbers are a lot less concerning. From year to year, total enrollment can vary by 125 students or more. Many times, this is because we have a major difference in child count with the kindergartners coming into our school district, and/or the number of seniors leaving our school district.
Another reason enrollment has dropped during these 30 years is because our community now supports one new charter school, and another charter school and three private schools have established themselves as alternatives for families. Our district enjoys a good working relationship with these schools and have always provided a helping hand when needed. Our community deserves nothing less. In fact, we offer to provide Title I and special education to all these schools within our school district. Some schools accept the offer, and some choose not to participate.
An additional major concern I found with Courtney’s article regarded the number of teachers and administrators currently employed with the district. Courtney’s assertion that we employ 224 staff is far from the truth. This past year we had 172 teachers, which also includes counselors, school psychologists, librarians, speech and language specialists, gifted/talented instructors and special education instructors and two new behavioral intervention specialists. The full-time equivalent is 164.15 certified staff. I am guessing if Courtney received the information from the Idaho Department of Education. In the past, it would count a person twice if they worked in two different buildings or had two different teaching jobs.
Regarding Courtney’s statement that there is a bloat in administration, we have not gained any additional administration during the past 30 years. We have moved positions around to utilize the skills of the individual administrators, but we have not added any certified administrators and are comparable to any school system, including private schools.
The final concern I want to address regarding Courtney’s article is his belief that we should simply close Russell Elementary School and West Park Elementary School and place those students in our other schools, McDonald and Lena Whitmore. This may be appealing on paper but isn’t at all realistic. First, we are not a warehouse where we can place a child wherever there is room. We cannot just place students where class sizes are the lowest. For example, we are not going to put a first-grader in a fifth-grade classroom.
Additionally, the spaces available in Lena and McDonald would require class sizes of 30-33 students in each classroom. This class size was fine years ago, when students sat in rows and were lectured to for most of the day, but research shows that hands-on and active learning is far more successful than outdated passive modalities. We also must consider that with a 5-percent expected growth in Moscow, the district must plan responsibly for such an increase.
Courtney, I could also respond to other statements in your column that I found to be troubling, but these are the most salient. Please understand, we work very hard to be good stewards of our taxpayer’s money, but with the reduction of needed funding coming from the state level, we rely on support from our local taxpayers to maintain a program that our community is proud of.
Let us work together to encourage our state legislators to follow their constitutional responsibility and provide a thorough and equitable education for all Idaho children. It is by this means that school districts around the state can reduce their need for higher property taxes.
Bailey is the superintendent of the Moscow School District.