The Coeur d' Alene School District is smart. They have tapped into an incredibly valuable resource: The people of our community. And it is free. The only cost is a willingness to change, to take a chance and to listen.
Five concerned citizens with illustrious resumes stepped forward last summer to volunteer their talents for a district finance review. These men have each completed successful careers with experience in budgeting for business, law or education, and their seasoned advice would normally command a high consulting fee. Yet they gave hundreds of hours studying and reviewing the district's spending patterns, required services and revenue sources.
Last Monday night, this citizen finance panel presented their recommendations to the school board. Jim Keizer, Wendell Wardell, Jim Ballew, Tony Talbot and Art Flagan brought forward nineteen suggestions, and the school board was respectfully attentive.
The meeting room was full of school administrators, staff and citizens. I had a seat in the corner and could sense the anticipation of a fresh approach to the financial issues facing our schools.
Some of the panel's suggestions were surprising, some were substantial and others predictable. Jim Keizer, a retired school superintendent from another state, had innovative ideas for classroom use and personnel assignments. Wendell Wardell, retired CEO of a food distribution company, spoke to the huge savings possible with central purchasing and warehousing, as well as changes in transportation and employee benefits.
This wealth of information will now be considered by the board. After voicing her appreciation to the finance panel, Chairwoman Edie Brooks clearly emphasized the public will continue to be part of the process. Board member Vern Newby remarked that this year the board has been more open to the public than ever before. All of these positive indicators point to Hazel.
Hazel Bauman is our new superintendent, taking over the helm last June, though she has been part of this district for many years. Since her step up to the top spot, Hazel has broken the mold. Last summer she held a series of public meetings which were truly open gatherings where people could ask any and all questions. Hazel was patient and responsive. She then invited five of the gentlemen to work on a finance review and gave them unlimited access to district records, staff and assistance. That is smart.
Might other officials in our community take a lesson?
Will the NIC Board start listening and respecting those who attend their meetings or will they continue their pattern of disregard for community input? Business owner Ron Nilson wrote a strong admonition of the board in his guest column published in last Wednesday's Press. Ron quoted Governor Otter and State Superintendent of Schools Luna, both saying they do not believe the CdA site is the best place for expansion of higher education; that it is not the best use of taxpayer money. Other cities in our county agree with the governor and many of our area legislators do as well. Why doesn't the NIC board take a lesson from Hazel and seriously reconsider their direction, in light of the overwhelming concerns from highly placed and experienced sources?
Will LCDC continue to ignore the tax burden their urban renewal districts place on property owners in CdA and all of Kootenai County? LCDC won't explain their tax impact, they try to excuse and confuse the issue. They claim it is "too complicated". Why don't they take a lesson from Hazel and search out an experienced panel of qualified citizens to review all their records and come forward with recommendations?
And let's not forget the city of CdA. Will they learn from the school district's in-depth finance review, and find ways to cut expenses and recover revenues rather than raise fees or taxes on struggling taxpayers? Will they invite the public into the process?
There are many lessons to be learned. Thank you, Hazel, for leading the way. Thank you for recognizing the priceless assistance the public can offer. The next couple of years will be a challenge for us all but working together we can help ensure success.