COEUR d'ALENE - School board members in Coeur d'Alene selected Brent Regan Monday for appointment to the district's board of trustees.
Regan's selection was made following a two-hour and 15-minute public interview of three potential candidates, including Christa Hazel and Casey Morrisroe.
The sitting board members - Tom Hamilton, Terri Seymour, Ann Seddon and Jim Hightower - grilled the trustee hopefuls, asking questions that touched on a broad range of issues including school safety, the upcoming maintenance and operations levy that will go before voters in March, the recently eliminated International Baccalaureate high school program and the Primary Years Programme at Hayden Meadows Elementary, and how they will deal with it when they find themselves in disagreement with some of their constituents.
All three candidates mentioned funding when asked what their greatest concern is for schools.
"The greatest immediate concern is the levy and the budget, and underlying that is a structural issue," Regan said.
He noted that a $3 million budget shortfall the district faces is 5 percent of its $60.2 million annual budget.
"I'm an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have a term for a 5 percent cash shortfall in operations. It's called 'Tuesday,' because we're always operating in a cash lean environment," Regan said. "In fact, organizations are well to operate in a cash lean environment. If they're cash rich, they tend to get fat and lazy and tend to end up destroying themselves."
The "structural issue" must be addressed also, Regan said, so the shortfall isn't a re-occurring problem.
None of the candidates said they would seek to reinstate the IB or PYP programs, each saying the programs proved to be too controversial for the district.
"I don't believe IB and PYP hold a monopoly on critical thinking," said Christa Hazel.
Casey Morrisroe, a Hayden Meadows parent, said he and his wife chose the school for their daughter because they were familiar with it since his wife had taught there for several years, not because of PYP. Morrisroe said they were comfortable with the school's staff and knew there was good parental involvement and a supportive PTA.
"That's, to us, the cornerstone of a good education. You've got to have the parents involved," Morrisroe said.
The interviews took a tense turn when trustee Ann Seddon asked the applicants how they would deal with personal attacks on blogs and in other media.
"I hate to lay it out there, but I'm just warning you. How do you think you'll handle it?" Seddon asked.
After Christa Hazel responded that she knows that things which are written as web comments are often not factual or accurate, trustee Terri Seymour asked Hazel if she had ever called Seymour and Tom Hamilton members of the Aryan Nations.
Hazel said she did not, but said that two years ago, she did question why two trustees had a post office box that was registered to the Aryan Nations. The post office box number registered to a campaign website for Hamilton and Seymour in January 2011 had previously belonged to a white supremacist church. Hamilton told The Press, at the time, that it was a "very unfortunate coincidence."
"Do you realize the effect that it had on our personal and private lives?" Seymour said. "And it hasn't died. It is continuing to go on and on, and it has to do with this very group that you're involved in."
When Hazel asked what group, Seymour named the CEP (Coeur d'Alene Education Partnership), a new nonprofit education watchdog group made up of parents and citizens, including several former board members.
Hazel said she's not a member of the nonprofit.
"Are you going to be able to work with this board, whether you're elected or appointed?" Seymour asked.
Hazel, who has sought appointment to the board two times previously, spent several years on the district's Long Range Planning Committee, and is vice-chair of the Bryan Elementary PTA, said she would be able to work with the board. She said she has discussed the post office box issue with Seymour and Hamilton several times.
Some of the questions asked of the applicants had little to do with the role of a school trustee.
Jim Hightower asked the candidates if they would support a tax increase, other than a property tax increase, to better fund education in the state. If the tax structure were to change, it would be a legislative decision, not a local one.
"I support looking at every and any avenue possible to bring tax relief for our taxpayers and bring adequate funding to our schools. The idea that we're at the bottom of the heap as far as funding public education, and public education is a constitutional requirement in the state of Idaho," Hazel said.
Regan's selection was almost unanimous.
The trustees had a first round of voting in which they each selected their top two choices. Regan was the only candidate among each of the trustees' first round picks.
In the final vote, Hightower, Seddon and Seymour selected Regan. Hamilton chose Morrisroe as his top choice.
The term Regan is completing by appointment ends June 30. He will have to seek re-election in May to continue in the seat.
Hazel and Morrisroe each said they will challenge Regan at the polls in May.