WSD administrators return from leadership conference

Philip A. Janquart
Funds used came from state surplus and general fund dollars
Last fall, Weiser School District administrators attended a four-day long conference that focused on skills that are helping them to better run the district.
 The conference took place Sept. 26-29 in Nashville, Tenn. Dubbed the EntreLeadership Master Series, the conference is run by national finance personality Dave Ramsey who is a radio show host, author, and businessman.
 He is well-known for his expertise, helping a wide range of individuals and groups improve how they run their businesses and organizations, which includes school districts.
 District Superintendent Wade Wilson and board member Justin Erickson attended the conference, which Erickson said cost approximately $15,000, including air fare and hotel, for the two of them to attend.
 “At [Justin’s] request, I attended a national leadership workshop put on by the Dave Ramsey organization,” said Wilson, who recently announced his retirement. “It was about trying to develop organizational leadership.”
 The cost of the conference reportedly became an issue with the teacher’s union and some members of the public who questioned spending so much money on a single conference.
 “It has been a sensitive subject, with a few people saying, ‘Is that really necessary?’” Wilson said. “Well, I tell you, I get it.”
 “The conference was my idea,” Erickson told the Signal American last week, following a recent Facebook post that was critical of the trip. “I proposed it to Wade, probably, eight months before the conference and he pushed back a little. Getting on the school board, I saw a lot of problems that we had in our school district, things that [Dave Ramsey] teaches and I thought, ‘Holy cow, if we could get our leadership on board with these principles, it could make a pivotal change in our district and how we do business, how we recruit, how we retain people, and how we communicate.”
 The conference focused on time management, establishing core values, hiring, interviewing, communication, unity and recognition, delegation, firing, and more. Guest speakers included Dave Ramsey; “America’s Career Coach,” Ken Coleman; best-selling author and mental health and wellness expert, Dr. John Delony; and Ramsey Solutions Director of Events, Joe Leavitt.
 Erickson said that he and Wilson have already been applying the principles they brought back with them. 
 He added that teacher polls suggest communication is one of the biggest problems facing the district.
 “Oh, 100 percent,” he said when asked if he thought it was worth the money to attend the conference. “And that’s what I said to the folks who approached us about it. I said, ‘You are the teacher’s union … we are doing this for you.’ The No. 1 thing people (teachers) had a problem with was communication. They think we don’t have great communication and I would agree. We sat through an hour-long presentation from some of the best business people in the world, talking to us on how to better communicate with staff.”
 Through the conference, the district is now enrolled in EntreLeadership Elite, which offers various services that include built-in tools and video trainings that can be shared across the district. It includes a survey tool that can be used to poll district staff on a weekly, or even daily, basis.
 Representatives for the teacher’s union could not be reached for comment.
 Erickson said money used to attend the conference came from the district’s general funds, which he said serve as the district’s reserve, and from continuing education funds tied to federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds distributed by the State of Idaho during COVID.
 “It wasn’t like we didn’t buy text books so [we] could go to Nashville,” he said. “It was nothing along those lines and, realistically, this year, we had a surplus year.”
 The school district receives state funding based on two models: first, by enrollment and, second, on student attendance. Currently, the state bases its funding on enrollment. Every year, when calculating the upcoming fiscal budget, administrators have to try to make their best determination of how many students the district will enroll, a number that can fluctuate drastically, according to Erickson.
 “We asked if this [conference] would be financially feasible and the answer we got was that we had 100 [less] students than we thought, and that translates into $150,000 to $200,000 surplus.”
 The district was also unable to fill two positions that had been vacated, leading to an additional $90,000 surplus.
 Erickson pointed out that the district is doing everything it can to take care of its teachers and staff.
 “Last year, we ended up doing two bonuses,” he said. “Teachers got $1,000 and there was another bonus that went to all people who work in the district. One of those was a result of the Idaho ($1.9 billion) surplus. They said we could use it any way we wanted, but we gave 100 percent to the teachers. Another amazing thing, part of the state surplus, is that there was a pot of money that we could use for benefits for our staff. The state said we didn’t have to, but recommended it, so we did a 100 percent passthrough on that where we gave every dollar toward their benefits. This is the first year anyone can remember where our employees didn’t have to pay any premiums for their healthcare.”
 Erickson said the new superintendent, once hired, and another board member will attend another EntreLeadership conference in May. He added that he and Wilson would never have spent the money if the district didn’t have it to spend.
 “We looked at our budget and we looked at the bonuses people were getting and the benefits and said, you know, we are in a good spot,” he said. “Financially, as a district, we can do this. And a lot of that money was coming from a state surplus, so it’s not like the taxpayers were opening up their checkbooks to us to pay for that.”


Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
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