Upper Valley School Superintendents looking forward to 2019-2020 school year

(Photo courtesy Sugar-Salem School District)

UPPER VALLEY – New teachers, a restored language course, renovated school buildings, a brand new football stadium and a proposed school bond are all parts of the upcoming 2019-2020 school year.

To begin with, the Sugar Salem School District plans to hold a bond election on Tuesday, Aug 27, where it’s asking voters to vote “yes” or “no” on a $17 million bond for a new junior high school. Should residents approve the bond, it will be built on property recently donated by the Dalling Family of Sugar City. Should voters vote “no,” that means more modular classrooms at the junior high school.

In order to pass the bond, the election requires a 66.5 percent or two-thirds majority of the vote.

“We’re excited about the bond that’s coming up. The feedback has been really positive,” said Sugar-Salem School District Superintendent Chester Bradshaw.

The district’s current junior high school is bursting at the seams and requires the use of modular classrooms to add the needed classrooms,” he said.

“We have to manage our growth. We’re starting to experience growth that we haven’t anticipated this year. Even today (Monday), I’ve been in three buildings and had kids signing up for school who weren’t on our records from other years. I didn’t know they were coming,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw didn’t know how many new students had enrolled or planned to enroll in the district.

“It’s a working document. In another week we’ll have a better idea,” he said.

The Junior High School is the smallest of Sugar-Salem’s school buildings.

“The gym in our existing junior high is old and our heating system is old and needs some attention. It’s the building that has the highest maintenance costs per capita,” he said.

The current junior high school serves seventh and eighth graders. A newer junior high school would provide more room for an additional grade.

“(It will) give us that much more flexibility. It buys us that much time, and takes the pressure off of the other buildings,” Bradshaw said. “If our high school, in time, becomes very full, we could potentially move one grade down to the junior high school. We’re talking about taking one grade out of Kershaw Intermediate school – the sixth grade – and putting it up in this new junior high school building.”

The school district hasn’t yet created any architectural designs for the new school as it’s waiting to see if the bond passes, Bradshaw said.

“We don’t have any hard and fast set of plans. We would build it big enough for three grades and have us a little bit of room for growth in those grades. The hardest thing we need to know is what our buying power is,” he said. “As soon as the bond passes, the very next thing that comes up is a plan to match with the amount of money we’re able to spend. That will drive a lot of our decisions,” he said.

Should the bond pass, the hope is to start groundwork on the building in April or May of next year.

“We hope to get our architectural plans done and final enough that we can start bidding the ground work,” he said.

Should the bond not pass, the school district will look into buying more portable classrooms.

“We don’t love portables. They’re expensive to maintain. They’re disjointed. It’s one of the biggest issues — they’re a disjointed form of education,” he said.

School starts on Wednesday for Sugar-Salem students. A total of 23 new teachers will greet students at the district’s respective buildings. The new educators come from throughout Idaho with some from out of state. Some are first year teachers while others are experienced educators, Bradshaw said.

“We hire teachers every year anyway. If our growth continues, we’ll absolutely add additional staff. Based on student numbers, we are hiring to accommodate growth in different places,” he said.

Bradshaw noted that there is a national teacher shortage, and Idaho’s is compounded by the fact that it’s one of the lowest teacher paying states around. According to Idahoednews.com, during the 2019-2020 school year, beginning teachers may expect to earn $35,800 a year. In the 2020-2021 school year, new educators will receive an additional $5,000 or $40,000 annually.

While the wages are going up, Gem State teacher pay is still significantly lower than what the neighboring Wyoming offers, Bradshaw said.

“They pay way better. I talked to a guy whose daughter had just taken a $50,000 a year job as a first year teacher in Wyoming. That’s what we’re paying our principals. That’s a great disparity in salary,” he said.

According to the National Education Association, Wyoming pays an average of $60,485 to its teachers. It reports that Idaho teachers receive around $51,475. 42 a year. Nationally, the NEA reports the average teacher salary is $59,660 with teachers’ salaries ranging from the highest of $81,902 in New York State to the lowest of $42,925 in Mississippi.

In addition to new teachers, the Sugar-Salem School District plans to add a new Spanish language course at the high school. It will be the first time in many years that the district has provided such a course, Bradshaw said.

“It’s been quite some time. That’ll be really nice. We have the funds. We’re paying for that through our General Fund. We felt like that was important,” he said.

In the meantime, the district plans to continue offering its Mandarin Chinese Language course. Yes, Mandarin Chinese. Bradshaw was surprised by this as well when he started working at the district.

“That’s been our foreign language for I don’t know how long,” he said.

At the grade school level, the district has added a new heating and air conditioning system at its Kershaw Elementary School. It’s also done some remodeling at Central Elementary School.

“We put in some new counter tops and cabinets in many of the classrooms to try and update those,” Bradshaw said.

School District officials are looking forward to the new school year, he said.

“We’re all excited and gung-ho,” he said.

Meanwhile, at the Madison School District, the district recently hired 46 new teachers that are spread out throughout the district’s schools. The educators come from all over the state as well as from across the country. Many are recent Brigham Young University-Idaho graduates. This is the largest number of hires the district has had in quite some time, reported officials.

The district’s business manager Varr Snedaker said that most of the new hires are taking the place of teachers in current Madison School District programs.

“We might be adding a position or two,” he said.

Snedaker noted that the district has received funding allowing it to hire more teachers.

“It’s just been a struggle and an issue in recent years that we, during the Great Recession, cut salaries. We’re getting our funding back. We’re ahead of where we were in the Great Recession. We’re looking better,” he said.

Snedaker reported that the new hires are a part of the “282.4 full-time equivalents of teacher instructional staff” some of which are part-time staff.

He noted that the school district had experienced a large turnover rate during the last eight years, but is fortunate to have BYU-Idaho nearby that produces many education graduates every year.

“We’ve had quite a few new hires of graduates. They work here until their spouses graduate, and then they move off to somewhere else,” he said.

Snedaker expects more students this year and reported that the district will get its first official student count next month.

“We’re averaging 100 new students a year. In 2018-2019, we had about 5,200 students,” he said.

Returning students will also be the first classes to enjoy the school’s new gym, new classrooms and the new Bobcat Stadium that’s the largest high school stadium in the state, officials have reported.

The stadium required $8.8 million of the $27 million bond that Madison County residents passed in 2017. To celebrate the new stadium, the district is inviting Madison residents to attend its first home football game free of charge at 6:30 p.m., Friday, August 30.

“We designed Bobcat Stadium to a very high standard that reflects the pride we have in our school district and in our community,” said Madison School District Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas.

The school district has also added four new classrooms at Kennedy and Burton Elementary Schools. There are also plans for a new Lincoln Elementary School gym early next year. The district also upgraded Adams Elementary School’s heating and added air conditioning at the school recently.

The upgrades at the various facilities will help students improve their studies, said Madison School District’s Communications Coordinator Jessica Goudy.

“It sets the tone for learning,” she said.

In Fremont County, Superintendent Bryon Stutzman reports that the county has hired 15 new teachers.

“They are all first year teachers,” he said.

The new teachers are spread throughout the district. They were hired from throughout the Gem State and across the country, Stutzman said.

Fremont School District has an estimated 2,200 students enrolled.

“We have not seen an increase. Our rolls aren’t completely solid yet. There will be people who move in, and people who move out. We haven’t paid that much attention to what the numbers are. Students move out, and we don’t know they’ve moved out until we get a request for records from that other school,” he said.

Stutzman doesn’t expect to see a major change in the district’s student population.

“There hasn’t been any big businesses start up in Fremont County. There hasn’t been any major employment issues. I would assume we’ll stay pretty close to the same district-wide,” he said.

All three school superintendents expressed optimism for the upcoming school year.

For more information on the various school districts, call one of the following numbers: Madison School District at 208-359-3300, the Sugar-Salem School district at 208-356-8802, and the Fremont School District at 208-624-2500.

To contact Lisa Dayley Smith write to lsmith@uvsj.com