TWIN FALLS — Weeks after being placed on administrative leave, Twin Falls’ fire chief has resigned.
Tim Soule sent a letter late Friday notifying city administration of his immediate resignation. The city announced Tuesday that it accepted. Soule had been on paid administrative since Aug. 29 as the city conducted an investigation. City officials have declined to disclose what they were probing, other than to say it was not connected to criminal activity.
Tuesday marked one year to the date since Soule was sworn in as fire chief, with an annual salary of $123,188.
According to a legal separation agreement obtained by the Times-News, Soule will continue to be paid through Dec. 16, representing gross pay of $26,059. After withholding and retirement, the net salary payment is $18,823.53.
Additionally, the city has agreed to pay out $7,832.51 in gross pay for accrued vacation; $2,538.78 for insurance and $4,341.43 for the employer’s retirement contribution.
The parties also agreed to the specific wording in a press release to announce Soule’s departure.
City Manager Travis Rothweiler said in a statement: “Soule possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience about fire and emergency response services. It’s difficult for us to lose that, but we also recognize that not all professional relationships are the right fit, and moving in a new direction will benefit the organization and community.”
The city does not intend to publicly discuss what led Soule to leave, but it will explain the reasons to battalion chiefs, union representatives and other fire department leadership, according to agreement. But only if they sign non-disclosure agreements that prohibit them from telling others what they learn.
Soule also issued a statement: “The Twin Falls community is fortunate to have such outstanding men and women serving their life safety needs with the Twin Falls Fire Department. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of initiatives, over the past year, that have benefited the Department, City and surrounding community.”
An Ohio native, Soule began his firefighting career in the suburbs of Cleveland before moving on to Kalispell, Mont. Prior to moving to Twin Falls, he served as deputy chief of the East Fork Fire Protection District in Minden, Nev. He has more than 25 years of experience in fire and emergency services.
Soule was selected from among three semi-finalist candidates based on qualifications in emergency management, leadership and community involvement.
Since his leave from duty, the department’s operations have been managed by three battalion chiefs, with the captains reporting to them.
BUHL — While wildfires raged and smoke filled Idaho’s sky, the state’s famous spud crop suffered this summer.
“Smoke does tend to affect potatoes,” said farmer Randy Hardy of Oakley.
The haze over much of the state filtered vital sunlight and somewhat stunted the tubers, said Idaho Potato Commission spokesman Travis Blacker of Idaho Falls.
Early estimates say yields are down from last year’s record crop, Blacker said, confirming what Hardy, a potato commissioner, has seen this year. But it’s too early to tell how far below last year’s record crop today’s crop is.
Most of the state’s 308,000-acre potato crop is harvested; only a few of the large operators are still digging.
“The cold weather held us back a little,” Hardy said Tuesday. “I had expected to be done by now.”
In addition, acreage is down about 5 percent from last year’s 323,000 acres, Blacker said.
Twenty years ago, Idaho grew even more potatoes, he said. But dairies have changed the crop profile, especially in the Magic Valley. Producers are now growing more alfalfa and corn.
“Growers have more options now,” Blacker said.
Idaho produces about 13 billion pounds of potatoes annually, more than any other state. According to the commission, potatoes are “America’s favorite vegetable.” About 94 percent of Idaho producers grow brown-skinned russet potatoes such as Burbank and the early Norkotah, leaving 6 percent for niche varieties such as fingerlings, golds and reds.
Much of the state’s crop was planted late because of wet soils in the spring, Blacker said, which also contributed to lower yields.
But other than a few hiccups in the weather, this year’s potato crop experienced few other problems, said Rod Lake of Burley. Lake grew some 1,500 acres of potatoes this year, some near Burley and some near Buhl.
Both Hardy and Lake say their crops yielded well — the quality of their soil made up for the adverse growing conditions.
Lake, who grew up on a cattle ranch near Blackfoot, started out as a crop consultant. He started small and grew into the potato acreage he farms now. About one-third of his crop goes to the fresh market, while the rest of his crop is sold to be dehydrated.
He’s seen prices fluctuate between $3 and $7 per hundredweight. The $21 per hundredweight he saw in 2008 was an anomaly. With lower yields this year, he hopes this crop will bring a good price.
The potato industry has reduced its risk through better seed quality, better fertilizers and advanced technologies, including remote sensing to identify problems early, Lake said.
Still, he said, “the best tool a farmer can have is a shovel.”
WENDELL — Try to create and share a document using Google Docs, Kari Wardle told a group of Wendell teachers.
The content doesn’t have to be creative, Wardle said Friday, pointing out a couple of teachers working in Wendell Elementary School’s computer lab. “Those guys are busy putting clip art in over there.”
About 25 teachers were learning how to create and share digital documents. It’s a tool they can bring back to their classrooms to share information and collaborate with fellow teachers, or have students submit assignments digitally and provide quick feedback.
The training was part of a PBS pilot project, the Teacher Community Program, launched last year.
It operates in five states with rural areas: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, North Dakota and Iowa. A full-time certified teacher for each state is working as a teacher ambassador.
“What they’re trying to do is really figure out how they can support teachers in states that are largely rural and have fairly large populations of low socio-economic students,” Wardle said.
Training focuses largely on helping teachers implement technology and digital media in a meaningful way in their classrooms.
Teachers are navigating challenges such as poverty among their students and a lack of devices such as iPads or Chromebooks to use in their classrooms — or a lack of training on how to use what they have.
Wardle, who has been a teacher ambassador for Idaho Public Television since January, is working with teachers in rural communities across Idaho. She was previously a fifth-grade teacher at White Pine Elementary School in Burley for eight years.
She works regularly — with visits at least once a month — with four Magic Valley schools: Wendell Elementary School, Wendell Middle School, Gooding Elementary School and Popplewell Elementary School in Buhl.
Wardle has also partnered with elementary schools in Marsing and Emmett to provide teacher training, but doesn’t visit on a regular basis.
She wants to increase awareness of free, standards-based resources from PBS and Idaho Public Television available for teachers to use in their classroom.
Wardle said she has learned is there’s often a lack training for teachers on how to use technology in their classroom. Schools and school districts invest money in devices, roll carts of iPads and Chromebooks into classrooms and say, “See you later,” she said.
As a result, some teachers don’t use the equipment or use it ineffectively, she said.
Using a phone or iPad as an individual is “a way different ball game than putting it in front of 30 second-graders,” Wardle said. “I think districts take that for granted.”
Also, the playing field for school technology isn’t level, she said, adding many Boise-area schools have one device per student, a ratio often lower in rural districts.
At Wendell Elementary School, Wardle comes to campus twice a month for “Tech Talk Thursdays.” She provides training to small groups of teachers during their 40-minute preparation time.
Wardle connects well with teachers and shares stories from her own classroom experiences, Wendell Elementary Principal Paula Chapman said, and that keeps training sessions engaging and relevant. “Teachers benefit most from when it comes from another teacher.”
It’s also beneficial to receive on-site training focused on smaller schools, she said, without having to drive to Twin Falls. In addition to training and curriculum resources, Wardle can also help with co-teaching or watching a lesson.
“She has really become a wealth of different resources,” Chapman said.
Last school year, Idaho Public Television started by looking at seven potential Magic Valley school districts to serve, including the percentage of children living in poverty and test scores.
“We felt like surrounding the Magic Valley area would be a good place to start,” Wardle said, partly because Twin Falls is a nearby hub that could help with finding community partners.
Wardle conducted a needs assessment with six schools interested. She narrowed down the pool to four schools.
Chapman found out last school year Wendell Elementary was among the schools selected for the three-year Teacher Community Program. Now, it’s in the second year.
Wardle said she has discovered teachers are hungry for training on how to use technology in their classroom, and to make technology-driven lesson plans.
“Teachers see the value of using it,” she said. “They just don’t have the training they need.”
TWIN FALLS — Women in Idaho working full-time jobs generally earn 76.5 percent as much as men, according to a new study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2016, Idaho women working full-time jobs reported median weekly earnings of $645. Men’s weekly earnings were $843.
And it may seem the gap between men’s and women’s salaries is widening: Just three years ago, Idaho women were making more than 85 percent of what men made.
The study didn’t compare job-to-job, but measured wage differences based on a survey of 60,000 households nationwide.
Economists say the difference in wages between men and women could reflect the differences in the kinds of industries that employ predominantly women versus those that employ predominantly men.
“Retail is an area where women are more predominant, and it’s lower paying,” Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Todd Johnson said.
According to the Idaho Department of Labor, in 2016 women accounted for about 60 percent of the retail workforce in Twin Falls County and Idaho as a whole.
Women’s wages may also be lower if they work in education — a field in which 69 percent of Twin Falls County workers were women.
And while women hold a significant percentage of hospital jobs — 75 percent of them statewide — oftentimes they are working in the lower-paying positions, such as nursing, Johnson said.
In food processing, where more than 1,900 Twin Falls County workers were employed in 2016, women make up only 32 percent of the workforce. An increase in these higher-paying jobs may not be as likely to be helping women. But women make up a growing percentage of food processing workers. In 2012, only 27.8 percent were women.
Idaho Department of Labor Regional Economist Jan Roeser said sometimes, traditional gender roles can affect whether a woman can attend college or how long it takes.
“The caretaker role is one that really impacts women,” she said.
But the rate of women enrolling in college is growing, Roeser said.
“They’re seeing that’s really needed to get ahead,” she said.
Since 1998, Idaho women have typically made between 71 percent and 86 percent of what men made. What’s important to keep in mind is the fluctuations between years is still statistically close, Johnson said.
“In percentage terms, it’s really not as drastic as it might immediately appear,” he said.
And the apparent decrease in women’s earnings compared to men’s in Idaho may be even less significant considering the small sample size.
Women’s weekly earnings in Idaho ranked 49th among the 50 states in 2016; and men’s weekly wages ranked 40th.