As the only incumbent in the two Coeur d’Alene public schools board of trustee races in this election, Heather Tenbrink hopes voters will give her four more years to carry out district initiatives.
Tenbrink’s opposition, retired Army special operations Officer Richard “Matt” Blatt, did not accept an interview with The Spokesman-Review.
Appointed in 2021, Tenbrink is the incumbent in her first campaign for office. If elected, she is eager to implement the new strategic plan that she thinks will bring positive change to the district in fostering collaboration between schools and the community, advancing effective teaching, learning and college and career preparation. She wants to continue making the budget more user-friendly in the form of a book with explanations of revenue streams and expenditures.
“That’s one of the areas we need to work on more, I think, is just being clear with our local community about how we’re spending our money because they choose to provide 25% of it every two years,” Tenbrink said, referring to property taxes collected in the biannual supplemental levy renewal asked of voters.
Tenbrink also shared her ideas regarding teacher retention and academic success in the district.
Coeur d’Alene had a rocky road toward levy passage last election, when voters in March turned down the district’s first ask – a perpetual levy of $25 million. Voters approved the second measure in May, which allowed the district to collect taxes for two years.
Tenbrink supports renewing the supplemental levy that pays for extracurriculars such as music and sports in schools, as well as additional staff for smaller class sizes and security officers.
She’s hopeful Coeur d’Alene’s 30-year track record of successfully passing supplemental levies will continue, but she said regular communication with residents showcasing the beneficiaries of levy dollars will manifest support from the community.
She also endorsed the district’s new smarter school spending plan that ensures spending aligns with the district’s goals as outlined in the strategic plan. Coupled with communication, this plan will emphasize transparent spending, Tenbrink said.
“Right now in Coeur d’Alene, that’s super important to help our community understand and have confidence in how we’re spending our school money,” Tenbrink said. “I don’t think there’s huge amounts of waste or reckless spending, but this will just help us hone in a little more and confirm that we’re making choices that lead us where we want to go.”
Coeur d’Alene faces unique challenges with district boundaries that share Washington’s border, Tenbrink said, as Washington teacher salaries may tempt Idaho talent.
Last year, Washington general education teachers averaged annual income of around $86,700 across all grade levels excluding kindergarten. Idaho teachers averaged $55,800 in the same metrics, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.
“In general, teachers are paid more,” Tenbrink said. “And you know, it’s really not that far of a drive.”
Tenbrink said while the school board may not be able to compete with Washington salaries beyond a recent state funded and levy supplemented $6,000 pay raise, she said they can focus on making sure teachers feel valued and supported at work.
“Making sure that we treat our teachers as professionals and value them, trust that they are doing the best they can to teach her children and that they’re following policies and laws and things like that,” Tenbrink said.
Fostering involvement among parents can support teachers, Tenbrink said, lightening their load through volunteerism while also making parents feel included in their child’s education. Speaking as an experienced school volunteer, Tenbrink said it will also benefit the student when they feel their parents prioritize their learning.
Trusting teachers’ authority will not only improve their work environment, but it can lead to improved academic success for kids, especially following the nationwide trend of learning loss after the pandemic.
To aid in retention of learning, Tenbrink endorsed a district initiative to increase collaboration between teachers to ensure each classroom is working toward the same goals. She also suggested an emphasis on learning in their education philosophy.
“It’s less about providing schooling and more focused on providing learning,” Tenbrink said. “I think if we really focus in on, ‘What do we want our kids to learn?’ And ‘What will we do if they haven’t learned it?’ That really gets at that learning loss piece.”
Blatt did not accept an interview request, but responded to a Kootenai County GOP questionnaire stating the current school board is in “disarray” with a progressive political bias. He expressed the desire to restore trust with the community by providing more advance notice to agenda changes and topics and making public the school board manual. He said he would hold weekly open meetings with community members. He described himself as fiscally and socially conservative.
In response to a Coeur d’Alene Education Association questionnaire, he said he believes school funds could be spent better, though he had not looked at financial reports and documents from the district. He expressed the desire to restructure teachers’ schedules so they have more time to plan for class, reduce class sizes and repair schools.
Blatt has the endorsement of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee .
Tenbrink is endorsed by North Idaho Republicans of Kootenai County and Citizens for Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, behind the Yes! Campaign to pass supplemental levies.