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Contracts could soon fill Jerome jail, but it likely won't be from ICE

JEROME — County commissioners appear to be just weeks away from securing two contracts to lease space in the county jail.

State inmates currently occupy 50 beds in the jail, but without a contract, Commissioner Charlie Howell said Tuesday. That contract with the Idaho Department of Corrections materialized earlier this week and is on Monday’s agenda.

Also this week, a representative with the U.S. Marshal’s Office toured the jail, discussed the contract process and filled out a preliminary request, Howell said.

Commissioners have sought contracts to house inmates from outside the county since the Jerome County Jail opened in July 2016. Currently the jail has a 136-bed capacity, Sheriff Doug McFall said.

“Most of the taxpayers want to make sure whatever we do, we make the best use of the facility, and we don’t have to pay the whole term of the bond,” McFall said.

Commissioner Cathy Roemer agrees.

“I want to put Jerome County first — to do what is best for us, our staff and our pocket book,” Roemer said. “Anytime you have options, it makes for a better scenario. Now we have options.”

For now, the news should quiet local civil rights groups and dairy farmers, who have vehemently opposed a previously discussed contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We’ve heard nothing more from ICE,” Commissioner Roger Morley said.

The payoff

The county currently houses Jerome and Lincoln inmates, and leases space to the Corrections Department. The state pays $45 per bed per day, but with a contract, the state would pay for a block of 50 beds, whether used or not, Roemer said.

Legislators are hoping to increase the daily rate, she said.

The U.S. Marshal’s Office has offered $65 per bed per day.

“They said they could fill 30 beds right now,” Roemer said.

It’s not a case of one agency or the other, Morley said. In addition to its own inmates, Jerome County could accommodate both agencies.

But that would depend on the type of inmates each agency would send, commissioners agreed.

“We’ve expressed our concerns about the level of security risk (to IDOC Director Henry Atencio),” Morley said. “Our jailers are not prison guards. They’re good, but they are law enforcement people.” The U.S. Marshal’s Office needs the space for those awaiting court dates, Roemer said.“Once they are sentenced they will go to where they will serve their sentence,” she said.

The jail could eventually hold another 48 inmates, McFall said. The facility was built with expansion in mind.

What if the ICE contract suddenly came up?

“We sat here and waited and waited on ICE,” Roemer said. “If we do receive a contract from them, we have to at least look at it.”

Mt. Harrison nearly doubled its graduation rate. A grant and a higher state standards bar help the alternative school.

HEYBURN — When a student doesn’t fit well in a traditional school, has a scrape with the law, has medical or learning challenges or becomes a teen parent, they might end up at an alternative high school.

Regardless of the circumstances that bring them to the school, the school is charged with addressing their needs and catching them up with the goal of getting them a diploma.

Seven years ago, Mt. Harrison Junior/Senior High School, which has 175 students in grades 9-12, ranked in the state’s bottom three schools.

In the past three years the school has nearly doubled its graduation rate, bringing it from 15 percent in 2014-2015 to an expected 27 percent in 2016-2017. The state has not released final rates for the 2016-2017 year.

The rates, which are based on a 4-year cohort, can be appealed by the school each year and then reconciled by the state to capture those who graduate over the summer or those who transferred to another school.

“We have 175 stories at this school,” Counselor Shanna Lindsay said. “The perception is that only kids in trouble come here. It’s kind of like you have a black eye coming out of the gate.”

Principal Kelly Arritt said the school has very few discipline problems.

“We’ve got a lot of great kids here that have struggles and challenges in life,” Arritt said.

Finding focus

Senior Mandi Foote chose to attend Mt. Harrison after a couple of days as a freshman at Minico High School left her feeling overwhelmed.

Foote was aware of the school because her sister had attended.

“All of the hustle and bustle at Minico was just too much,” Foote said. “It was easier for me coming to a smaller school.”

Foote said she felt frustrated at the larger school and she wasn’t getting what she needed to succeed. One difference between the schools, she said, is longer class periods at Mt. Harrison.

“Teachers have time to explain more,” she said. “And you pay more attention instead of just rushing through your day.”

She also likes the respect that she feels from teachers at the alternative school and that she’s talked to like an adult.

Part of the bump in graduation rates, Arritt said, was due to a $1.36 million grant the school received five years ago. The grant allowed the school to invest heavily in technology and software programs to help the students be successful.

Lindsay said in the past few years the school also shifted to requiring students to meet state standards and using quarter semesters rather than trimesters. The quarter semesters allow the students to make up classes more rapidly when they are behind.

“We were in big trouble,” Lindsay said. “At first it was just triage.”

It took three to four years for change to take hold and to start seeing the progress. But the extra funding paid for remedial programs to help students patch holes in reading and math — and that made the most difference, she said.


David Repke teaches his students an equation during their World History and Algebra 2 hybrid class Tuesday at Mt. Harrison High School in Heyburn.

The school also has a daycare and offers a 3 to 7 p.m. session, which helps meet student needs.

“Graduation rates are hard to measure for alternative schools,” Eva Craner, Twin Falls School District spokeswoman, wrote in an email to the Times-News. “It measures a cohort of students who enter high school as freshmen and graduate within four years.”

One of the benefits of having an alternative school is that it provides opportunities to students to earn their diploma who don’t make that four-year cut off and are considered non-completers by the state, she said.

Mt. Harrison was also recently chosen as one of two Magic Valley schools, along with Wendell Middle School, to participate in a one-year state pilot program aimed at helping the schools be successful.

The Idaho State Department of Education program will help seven schools with low student test scores and high poverty rates create an improvement plan to find them the support they need to help their students, and then put the plan in action.

Finding a better fit

Lead Teacher Candi Hurst said meeting student need has been instrumental in the school’s progress.

“Having access to the technology is extremely important right now,” Hurst said.

But, face-to-face learning is also important, she said.


Students work on an assignment in Angela Wojcik's English class Tuesday at Mt. Harrison Junior/Senior High School in Heyburn.

Better student tracking also helped boost the graduation rate along with better family engagement, which depends on teachers to implement.

“I have to give the teachers credit on that,” she said.

The school is able to assess a student’s need and develop programs specifically to address those needs, she said.

Senior Rhydan Juno, started at Mt. Harrison in October of his freshman year.

“I had failing grades in class. I was putting off doing assignments and not following class instruction,” Juno said. “I’d probably been doing the same thing since the third grade.”

When Juno was six years old he had two brain surgeries for cysts, which made learning a challenge. During his time at Mt. Harrison he’s been on the honor roll during many quarters and he’s been accepted at the University of Idaho. His plans include serving in the military and then going to college to earn his bachelor’s degree in information technology.

“Before I got to this school I was not interested in going to school at all,” he said. “Now I want to go to college instead of working in a factory job.”


Jerome County Sheriff Doug McFall, left, and County Commissioner Charlie Howell speak at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Jerome Jail on Mar. 5, 2015, in Jerome.

243 of Clif Bar’s employees in Twin Falls now have stock in the company

TWIN FALLS — When Isaac Norstad got his statement in May, he was surprised — to say the least.

He’s had part ownership in Clif Bar since a year after he started with the company. But now, he was fully vested and able to get a glimpse of what that ownership was worth. The value on his ownership statement was significantly more than he’d expected.

“I’d always heard the stories that, ‘Hey, you’ll be really surprised when you get this,’” said Norstad, the food safety and quality assurance manager at Clif Bar’s Twin Falls bakery. “And then when I saw mine, I was like ‘Wow!’ It’s definitely a very nice program.”

Norstad is one of 243 Twin Falls employees who now have ownership in Clif Bar Baking Co. While more employees are quickly approaching their one-year anniversaries with the company, those who stayed around a little longer have received — or will soon receive — their first statements.

“It’s really a milestone for us because two-thirds of our employees are in the program now,” General Manager Dale Ducommun told the Times-News on Tuesday.

Clif Bar employs 293 people at its Twin Falls bakery. The company rolled out its Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 2010, but the local bakery has been up and running for only about 20 months. Altogether, Clif Bar — a privately held company — is 20 percent owned by its employees.

Some workers, such as Norstad, have already hit three years with the company, based on a formula and their hire date. Norstad, 39, was hired in April 2015 when “we were just getting ready to break ground” in Twin Falls. He spent two months at the corporate office in Emeryville, Calif., before working in a temporary office here.

Sitting at his desk in a sunlit room at the completed bakery Tuesday, he could definitely see the worth in making Clif Bar his long-term future.

“Typically you’d have 25 years of work left at my age,” Norstad said. “Now I’m looking at how much earlier could I retire because of Clif Bar. You could potentially retire 5-10 years earlier, depending on when you go into the ESOP program.”

Here’s how Clif Bar’s ownership program works: Twelve months after an employee is hired — or after he or she has clocked in 1,000 hours — the employee enters Clif Bar’s stock ownership plan. But there’s a catch: If the employee leaves before working three years for the company, he or she won’t get any of that money.

After three years, employees become vested, meaning that whenever they retire or leave the company, they have three years to sell their ownership back to the company. The longer they’ve worked for Clif Bar, and presuming the company has grown, the higher that payout is.

The ownership then goes back into the pool for those who still work there. Clif Bar reassesses its value annually.

“The piece I don’t think people anticipate is that your money grows as the company grows,” Ducommun said. “They gift you stock every year, so the longer you’re with the company, the more stock you get.”

The stock comes on top of Clif Bar’s company-matched 401K retirement plan. The extra money can boost employees’ retirement funds, or let them retire sooner.

And it also gives them more of a share in the success of the company, Ducommun said.

“It does affect your decision-making because you want to make decisions that are going to be good long-term,” he said. “Across the company, it kind of impacts how they make decisions.”

Norstad has more incentive to assure the quality of bars that are shipped out — and he said he spends more time than he otherwise might have on coaching other employees.

“It makes it more like you’re working for each other,” Ducommun said.

In May, 187 Twin Falls employees will have hit three years with the company and will begin receiving annual statements that shows the amount and value of their stock.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for people that are just starting out their careers,” Norstad said. “It’s a supplement to my normal retirement planning.”

The 50 employees who don’t have ownership yet were mostly hired in early 2017, when Clif Bar put its third line into production, Ducommun said. They’ll get ownership this year, and the perks will probably be enough to keep many of them with the company — at least until they become vested at three years.

But Norstad plans to stay for the long haul.

“It’d have to be a pretty big job promotion to leave Clif Bar,” he said.

Balukoff makes second gubernatorial run: What’s different this time around?

TWIN FALLS — A.J. Balukoff kicked off his second run for governor of Idaho this month, with a tour around the state that included stops in Twin Falls and Ketchum.

The Boise businessman’s platform features the same top priority — education — as in 2014, when he faced off against incumbent Republican candidate C.L. “Butch” Otter, ultimately losing with 38 percent of the vote.

But after four years to reflect on lessons learned in 2014, Balukoff’s campaign strategy will look a little different this time around, he said. And in the wake of a recent string of unlikely Democratic victories in red jurisdictions around the country, Balukoff is optimistic that the Idaho governor’s office, which has been occupied by Republicans since 1995, could be the next to turn blue.

“What’s happened in other traditionally red states like Alabama and Viriginia has given me hope that people are getting past party labels and looking at candidates and what they stand for,” he said. “I think people are tired of the partisan bickering that we see, especially on the national level, and especially within the Republican party.”

What does Balukoff stand for? Topping his list is education.

“Four years ago, Idaho found itself at the bottom of national rankings with regard to education… whether you’re talking about education funding or student achievement,” Balukoff said. “Four years later, nothing has changed. We’re still at or near the bottom.”

In the Magic Valley area, for example, schools have had difficulty in recent years attracting certified teachers, Balukoff noted.

Twin Falls School District trustees approved 34 alternate authorizations at the start of the 2017-18 school year to hire educators without the proper certifications, including 20 unlicensed teachers, as the Times-News previously reported. Four of those unlicensed educators were student teachers who hadn’t yet graduated from college.

“Those are the people that are teaching the kids that are growing up in the Magic Valley area,” Balukoff said.

“Twin Falls has been doing a good job in attracting businesses like Chobani, Clif Bar. That’s helping the economy here,” he continued. “But for that to be sustainable, you’ve got to have a robust education system.”

Another priority for Balukoff in 2018: expanding Medicaid — not just in an effort to close the state’s so-called “Medicaid gap” of people without health care coverage, but with the goal of alleviating the financial burden on rural hospitals in the Magic Valley and elsewhere.

“People often don’t think about that,” Balukoff said. “They think about the 78,000 people that don’t have insurance. We need to help them have access to healthcare, but we also need to help the rural hospitals around the state.”

While Balukoff’s talking points on education may sound familiar to those who followed his 2014 campaign, he plans to deliver those talking points in a more personal way this year, he said.

“I learned a lot about campaigning and especially how important it is to get out and shake hands, look people in the eye. I plan to do more of that this time around,” Balukoff said. “It’s very much a face-to-face, getting-to-know-one-another kind of campaign.”


Kimberly's Dawson Cummins guards Filer's Nick Meyerhoeffer Tuesday at Kimberly High School.

AP Photo/Idaho Post-Register, Pat Sutphin