Friday, July 12, 2024

OPINION: A letter of thanks

by DR. SHON HOCKER/Guest Opinion
| June 7, 2023 1:00 AM

As another school year winds down, we reflect on the tremendous growth and progress our students, teachers, and staff have achieved. It’s always a bittersweet time as we say goodbye to our students for the summer. Many will go off adventuring at the many camps offered around our region, spend time with family, experience first-time summer jobs, and for our seniors, the beginning of the next chapter of their young adult lives. We are proud of our students and staff and are grateful for their hard work. It won’t be long until we welcome a new group of learners to the district along with our returning students, and we look forward to that!

The year wasn’t without its challenges. After a disappointing loss at the ballot box in March, this community came together three weeks ago and overwhelmingly supported our $25 million two-year supplemental levy. We are thankful for the strong showing of support for our kids and our schools. Without the incredible volunteer efforts of hundreds of students, parents, families, business owners, community leaders, civic groups, education partners, and so many others, we would not be where we are today. It isn’t easy to get involved when we are so busy with our day-to-day lives. Nevertheless, this community showed up, as it has so many times before, and decisively proclaimed the importance of investing in public education. To everyone who worked tirelessly for months to encourage people to vote on May 16, we are grateful.

We take very seriously the trust placed in us to manage our schools responsibly and transparently. Representing 25% of the district’s annual operating budget, these levy dollars pay for employee salaries/benefits, textbooks, classroom supplies and technology, athletics, art and music programs, mental health programs, extracurricular activities, safety and security officers, and much more.

The district allocates most of our budget to our people. Accordingly, our 2023-24 budget dedicates an additional $9.5 million for staff salaries and benefits. Where does that money come from? This year the Idaho State Legislature and Governor Little supported an effort to provide a $6,359 raise for every state-funded teacher. Our district received about $4.2 million from the state for employee raises. $1.8 million of that total was dedicated to fund teacher raises, for which we are very grateful. However, we employ about 60 more teachers than the state funds in order to keep class sizes smaller. An additional 50 of our teachers are supported by federal dollars, so raises for this group were not covered by the state. To ensure all of our teachers received the same salary increase, the district used levy funds to cover raises for these 110 teachers. The district was also able to provide pay increases for the rest of our staff using a combination of levy and state funding. The district’s starting hourly wage increased from $12.75 per hour to $16 per hour thanks to state support and levy funding.

It is critical to invest in the people who dedicate themselves to helping students become lifelong learners — empowered by their knowledge and skills to be responsible citizens. We are able to make this vital investment because of your support and the support of Governor Little and the Idaho Legislature.

We share a common belief in the transformative power of education. And we are committed to collaborating with our community stakeholders, working together to create, support, and maintain an inspiring educational ecosystem for our students. We cannot do it without you.

With heartfelt gratitude and excitement for the future; Forward. Together.

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Dr. Shon Hocker is superintendent of the Coeur d'Alene School District.