By Lyndsie Kiebert
Sitting down in the Sandpoint High School library across from Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Tom Albertson and a host of other administrators, Gov. Brad Little made the purpose of his Sept. 9 visit to the north clear in one sentence: “Tell us what you need.”
As the 2020-2021 school year commences amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, Albertson said his goal is to keep students and staff safe and in school. So far, Albertson said, the modified schedules and safety protocols are going well.
Throughout the school on Sept. 9, students in the hallway wore face coverings — a requirement in LPOSD secondary schools. Albertson acknowledged that LPOSD likely has a few families choosing not to attend in-person due to the mask requirement.
“The adults are a much bigger problem than the kids,” Little said, when it comes to adhering to masks and social distancing practices.
Albertson said his main concern right now is how the decreasing enrollment across the district — including an 8.9% drop at SHS — could impact future funding, seeing as the dip in students is likely temporary. In response, Little gestured toward longtime former-state Senator and current Idaho State Board of Education member Shawn Keough. Though nothing is finalized, Little said the board is likely to address school funding concerns in the near future.
Albertson also shared that in surveying local parents, LPOSD found that many struggled with the spring’s soft school closure, further prompting the district to find a way to get kids into classrooms.
“The hardship of having kids at home isn’t just about child care,” Albertson said, adding that providing children the materials to learn is a challenge completely separate from the ability to motivate children to learn.
When asked how the state plans to help working parents should the schools need to close again, Little told the Reader to “stay tuned,” referring to a press conference the governor’s office announced for Friday, Sept. 11 addressing “education funding and supporting parents.”
Meanwhile, as Idaho sees a projected $500 million tax surplus coming down the pike, many are wondering whether some of those funds could or will be used to backfill the $99 million in K-12 education funding that Little announced earlier this year. The governor said allocating some of those surplus funds to help school districts might be on the table, but the Sept. 11 announcement will go into more detail.
“That gives us all the more reason to come up [to Sandpoint],” Little told the Reader. “We’ve got an idea [of what to do with that money] … Boardmember Keough has an idea. But it’s always important for us to hear from the local areas.”
Watch Little’s Sept. 11 press conference at 11 a.m. (Pacific) on Idaho Public Television, or stream it online at idahoptv.org/shows/idahoinsession/governor.
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