Frustrated by how the district is being run, the Bonner County teachers union agreed Wednesday to ask its members for a vote of “no confidence” in Superintendent Max Harrell and other central office administrators.
The union is also asking teachers whether they want to sanction the district, which essentially puts it on a blacklist for colleges and employment offices nationwide.
If approved, the Idaho Education Association would label the Bonner County School District a poor place to work or receive an education.
“This is very serious, and we wanted to take these issues to all of our membership for a vote,” said Joan Head, Bonner County Education Association president.
“The actions of the central office have resulted in financial chaos, and they are not being responsible to the education needs of the students.”
Head and other union representatives met privately Wednesday night at Sandpoint Middle School. By next week, teachers are expected to cast their ballots.
The district faces a $544,000 deficit at the end of the year.
Harrell has also called for a 50 percent cap on extracurricular activity budgets for next school year, and said there is no money to give teachers a raise.
Earlier this month, when the bad financial news was made public, the school board approved a 2.8 percent pay raise for administrators. Harrell currently makes $80,228 a year and is the 10th-highest paid superintendent in the state.
The board and Harrell also hired a professional negotiator for $14,500 to deal with teachers who have worked without a contract for almost a year.
“We have a lot of concerns about where money is being spent in the district,” Head said.
A “no confidence” vote is one way for teachers to publicly show their disdain, she said, adding the union has unanimously condemned Harrell’s cap on extracurricular activities.
Harrell couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday night.
He was on the hot seat earlier this week when about 1,300 residents turned out at a meeting to oppose the lid on choir, yearbook, drama, sports and other extracurricular activities. Residents and teachers were angry administrators seemed to find money for their projects but were asking to hold the line on student programs.
Administrators this year have spent more than $12,000 for new laptop computers, paid $20,000 to a motivational speaker for a teacher workshop and about $4,000 to remodel some of their offices.
The special education budget was also overspent by about $188,000. Nearly $75,000 of that was spent to send one student to a private treatment program in Montana.
The union has questioned whether the district was legally obligated to spend that kind of money on one student while many other students do without adequate educational materials.
Rob Nicholson, a research director for the Idaho Education Association (IEA), said Bonner County union members came to him last week for help in dealing with the central office.
If any sanctions are issued against the district, the IEA must first agree to impose them, he said. That happened already at a meeting in Idaho Falls, Nicholson said, where 460 delegates voted unanimously to support the Bonner County teachers.
“If the local membership says we want to do it, then we are ready to impose the sanctions,” he said.