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Lapwai junior JJ Reuben reaches for Valley junior Zane Mussmann after falling to the ground during the 1A DI State Championship game Saturday, March 3, 2018, at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

Proposed school funding formula
Winners, losers: See which Magic Valley schools will get less money from a new funding formula

TWIN FALLS — Magic Valley school district superintendents say they’re unhappy about having winners and losers under a proposed new funding formula.

Superintendents have met to look at the funding formula proposal, said Dale Layne, superintendent of the Jerome School District. Local superintendents say the concept behind the new funding formula is a good one — basing funding on enrollment instead of average daily attendance — but when one school district gains money, it’s because another one is losing out.

“Anytime you make a change, there tend to be winners or losers,” Layne said. “I know in our region, we’ve talked that nobody wants to see another district be the loser.”

The Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee has been working for almost three years to come up with a new formula that will determine how Idaho’s public kindergarten through 12th-grade schools get state money. The latest draft was released last month. Now, the proposal heads to the state Legislature during the 2019 session, which begins in January.

Across Idaho, 36 school districts — including Bliss, Kimberly, Blaine County and Camas County — could see a drop in funding under the new formula. But school districts would be held “harmless” for three years during the transitional period, meaning they wouldn’t see a decline in funding until after that.

Rural school districts can’t afford to lose money, Layne said, adding all children in Idaho need to be taken care of.

Layne said he doesn’t think anyone fully understands the formula yet. But he said the state committee has done a nice job of trying to be transparent, willing to take input and considering different factors.

Part of the problem is current funding numbers won’t be correct later, he said, as school district enrollment and other factors change. The estimated impact for individual school districts is also based on the current level of state funding and assumes no new money will be added.

Complicating matters, school districts’ annual increase in funding would be capped at a 7.5 percent, meaning some districts won’t collect all of the additional funding they are eligible for under the new formula.

North Valley Academy, for example, would receive less than half the amount it is eligible for under the new formula. The cap would restrict the Gooding charter school’s additional funding from $276,450 — a 15.47 percent change — to about $138,000.

Jerome School District would be eligible for an additional $2.212 million — a 10.04 percent change — but would receive about $1.6 million after a 7.5 percent cap.

The biggest gain would be in the Twin Falls School District, which would be eligible for an additional $3.885 million — a 7.56 percent change — and would receive nearly all of that amount.

Currently, Idaho’s public school districts are funded based on average daily attendance: how many students show up to school. The new formula is based on how many students are enrolled, plus additional funding based on factors like school size, and the number of special education and English language learner students.

Under the new formula, some schools would lose money.

Bliss School Superintendent Kevin Lancaster said he has spent about a month dealing with the potential impact of the new funding formula. Lancaster’s 150 students could suffer the biggest loss: $95,036.

The amount of money the school district could lose, however, is down from more than $400,000 in previous drafts of the formula, Lancaster said.

He has talked with state legislators, Idaho State Board of Education officials and other school district superintendents across Idaho. Now, with a possible loss of about $95,000, “while that is still a major loss for me, it’s still better than it was,” Lancaster said. He said he’s hopeful and has faith the state won’t do anything to harm school districts. “I think somebody is going to come to our rescue.”

He said he’d like the “hold harmless” clause to be permanent — not just for three years.

It’s frustrating, Lancaster said, when he sees school districts around him that could gain hundreds of thousands of dollars “and I’m hoping to stay even.”

In Bliss, there’s only one place to cut $95,000: from employee salaries. “The only thing you could do is reduce your number of staff, which would raise the number of students per teacher,” and result in combined grade level classes, he said.

There’s been a big push over the last 25 years in Bliss to have one class per grade level, he said. “It’s been great for these kids out here. We hope to continue to do that.”

If that’s not possible, the school would leave positions vacant when teachers retire, Lancaster said.

Across Idaho, educators have been asking for a new funding formula for a long time, said Brady Dickinson, superintendent of the Twin Falls School District. “We’re really appreciative that the Legislature is tackling the issue.”

Dickenson said he likes the idea of moving from an attendance- to enrollment-based model. “I think the concept is a good one. In that sense, I’m very supportive.”

The current funding formula is complicated, Dickinson said. Plus, the cost of operating a school is the basically the same regardless of how many students show up on a daily basis, he said.

The Twin Falls School District would gain funding under the new formula. “Obviously, that’s a positive thing for our district,” he said. But “we recognize that when we’re gaining money, other districts are losing money.”

While additional funding would go a long way, he said, “I don’t think it’s right to do that at the expense of our rural schools.”

Dickinson said he thinks the Legislature will need to look at infusing new money into the funding formula in order to avoid school districts losing money.

Twin Falls will gain additional funds based largely on the high percentage of students living in poverty and the number of English language learners.

The school district would likely use the money to offset the cost of educating special education students, Dickinson said. The number of students has grown and there are more who have more severe needs.

Also, special education caseloads at some Twin Falls elementary schools are large, Dickinson said, and additional funding would allow for hiring more support staff.

In Jerome, the school district could make a substantial gain.

“It’s really hard to estimate,” Layne said. “There’s a lot of moving parts to it still.”

Similar to Twin Falls, two factors can help explain the funding increase: the number of students learning English and those who are living in poverty.

The Jerome School District would likely use additional state money to focus on special education and students who are learning English.

“The bottom line — the way it’s looking —Jerome would probably be one of the winners,” Layne said. “Of course, any of these things could change.”


Margie Gonzalez, executive director of Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, present statistics about Idaho's Hispanic population Tuesday during the 'State of the Hispanic Community in South-Central Idaho' hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Canyon Crest Event Center in Twin Falls.

TF Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic chamber sign partnership

TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and south-central chapter of the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce entered into a partnership that leaders hope will serve as a model in a state with a quickly growing Hispanic population.

Attendees of the first “State of the Hispanic Community of South-Central Idaho” address and luncheon, hosted Nov. 4 by the recently-established local branch of Hispanic chamber, included Magic Valley business owners, politicians and Hispanic community leaders from across Idaho.

Idaho’s Hispanic population is rapidly increasing, especially in the Magic Valley: 23 percent of the region’s population was Hispanic at the 2016 census. With that growth comes a question, “How can individuals and businesses do more to support the Hispanic community?” Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Rick Naerebout asked.

“There’s a great opportunity for us to show that we can be conservative but also pro-immigration,” Naerebout said. “We can be that example for the rest of the country to look at. I believe that’s happening in areas of south-central Idaho, and I believe we have the opportunities and the leadership to do it.”

The partnership between the two chambers, made official with a signing by Twin Falls Mayor and Chamber of Commerce CEO Shawn Barigar and Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce south-central chapter president Alex Castaneda, is one step toward strengthening support for the local Hispanic community, statewide board chairman Ivan Castillo said.

“We understood that it was important for us to become the bridge,” Castillo said. “We’re ready to create those partnerships ... and to make our similarities create that synergy necessary to make change.”

Leaders of Hispanic chamber hope the agreement, which encourages the chambers to “identify areas of mutual interest and concern” and “(promote) mutual development,” will not be the only partnership of its kind in Idaho, CEO Diane Bevan said.

“We want to link arms with all our local city chambers,” Bevan said, adding that any Hispanic business owner who joins his or her local chamber will automatically receive free membership in the Hispanic chamber.

Other speakers at the luncheon included Margie Gonzalez of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Judge Roger Burdick of the Idaho Supreme Court and Eulogio Mendoza, owner of La Campesina in Jerome, who told attendees through an interpreter the story of how he started his business 25 years ago.

Barigar noted some of the challenges facing Hispanic residents of the Magic Valley amid the region’s rapid growth, including relatively high unemployment rates and relatively low education levels.

“While this population is growing, there still is much work that needs to be done,” Barigar said. “But behind all of those numbers are real people.”

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: The College of Southern Idaho theater department presents “The Puppet Tree” with stories, poems and music at 7:30 p.m. in the CSI Fine Arts Theater, 315 Falls Ave., Twin Falls. Tickets: $10 adults, $5 senior citizens and students.

Second brother sent to prison after armed robbery at Burley gas station

BURLEY — A Paul man was sentenced to prison Nov. 4 for robbery despite prosecutors asking for leniency.

Jesus Bracamontes, 24, robbed a Burley gas station with his brother in May.

Bracamontes pleaded guilty to robbery. In return, the Cassia County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed additional charges of burglary and criminal conspiracy and asked for a four- to 10-year suspended sentence and that he be placed in the state’s therapeutic rider program for a year.

Instead, Cassia County District Judge Michael Tribe sentenced Bracamontes to prison for three to 10 years.

He was charged along with his brother, Gregori Bracamontes-Martinez, who was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for a robbery conviction in October.

Cassia County Chief Deputy Prosecutor McCord Larsen said the brothers planned the robbery before entering the convenience store with Gregori carrying an AK-47 rifle.

Larsen said Bracamontes’ role was mainly to act as a decoy and put something on the counter to purchase so the cashier would open the register.

But, he said, Bracamontes told the clerk she should not test his brother because Bracamontes-Martinez would shoot her, and those words struck the most fear in her.

She was not able to return to work, Larsen said, and she had to take another job without the same level of health care insurance.

The cashier told the court the incident continues to afflict her.

“I have knots in my stomach when I see a gun and nighttime still scares me,” she said.

She will suffer for years just because the two men entered a gas station and pointing a gun at her because they needed money, she said.

“I think they are both getting off easy,” she said. “I wish it was that easy for me.”

Bracamontes’ attorney Timothy Schneider said the two brothers needed money and “concocted a stupid plan to get not very much money.” Signs in the store clearly said there was not much cash in the registers, Schneider said.

The amount the brothers took was not revealed.

But there are mitigating factors on Bracamontes’ side, Schneider said, such as his young age, cooperation with authorities and a low score on a test that measures the probability of him committing a crime in the future.

Tribe said a lesser sentence would have depreciated the seriousness of the crime.

“This profoundly affected the victim and that might not be a strong enough adjective,” he said.

Imposing the sentence was not something the “court takes lightly,” he said, and he took the mitigating factors into account.

“I believe this case resets the violent crime parameters in Cassia County,” Larsen said after the hearing.

“This type of violence is unacceptable in Cassia County,” he said. “We feel strongly that it was a great sentence.”



After CIA briefing, senators lay blame on Saudi crown prince

WASHINGTON — Breaking with President Donald Trump, senators leaving a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday said they are even more convinced that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there is “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.

“There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” Graham said, referring to reports from the Turkish government that said Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Graham said “you have to be willfully blind” not to conclude that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the crown prince’s command.

Trump has equivocated over who is to blame for the killing, frustrating senators who are now looking for ways to punish the longtime Middle East ally. The Senate overwhelmingly voted last week to move forward on a resolution curtailing U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It’s unclear whether or how that resolution will move forward. The vote last week allowed the Senate to debate the measure, which could happen as soon as next week, but senators are still in negotiations on whether to amend it and what it should say.

Haspel met with a small group of senators, including leadership and the chairmen and top Democrats on the key national security committees, after senators in both parties complained that she didn’t attend an all-Senate briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week.

Pompeo and Mattis tried to dissuade senators from punishing Saudi Arabia with the resolution, saying U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Human rights groups say the war is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.

The two men also echoed Trump’s reluctance to blame the crown prince. Pompeo said there was “no direct reporting” connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mattis said there was “no smoking gun” making the connection.

After that briefing, Graham threatened to withhold his vote on key legislation until he heard from Haspel. “I’m not going to blow past this,” he said. That afternoon, senators frustrated with the briefing and the lack of response to Khashoggi’s killing overwhelmingly voted to move forward with consideration of the Yemen resolution, 63-37.

Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin said the briefing with Haspel “clearly went in to an evaluation of the intelligence” and was much more informative than the session with Mattis and Pompeo.

“I went in believing the crown prince was directly responsible or at least complicit in this and my feelings were strengthened by the information we were given,” Durbin said.

Durbin joined Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in calling for a full-Senate briefing from Haspel.

“Every senator should hear what I heard this afternoon,” Durbin said.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a critic of Saudi Arabia, said that excluding some lawmakers is “the very definition of the deep state” and that he suspected that the Trump administration is attempting to get some lawmakers to switch their votes on the resolution by giving them information.

Khashoggi was killed two months ago. The journalist, who had lived for a time in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.

“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” Trump said in a lengthy statement Nov. 20. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

The president has touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and recently thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices.

“They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran,” Trump said in the statement. “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

In a column for the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Graham wrote that the killing and other moves by the Saudi regime showed “astounding arrogance entitlement” and disregard for international norms.

“We are a coequal branch of government exercising leadership to safeguard the country’s long-term interests, values and reputation,” wrote Graham, of the Senate. “After all, someone’s got to do it.”

Graham said after the briefing that he would push for a nonbinding resolution that the crown prince was “complicit” in Khashoggi’s murder. Graham and Paul have also said they think Congress should block a pending arms deal with the kingdom.