Stories in this Regional News Roundup are excerpted from weekly newspapers from around the region. This is part two, with part one having appeared in Saturday’s Tribune.

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GRANGEVILLE — “We would like to call for a forensic audit of Mountain View School District 244, from an independent third party,” said Central Idaho Education Association President and Clearwater Valley teacher Char McKinney at the July 22 district negotiations meeting.

McKinney explained the CIEA’s numbers don’t agree with MVSD’s, and, in order to reach some of the same conclusions, “we need to all start on the same page.”

“If we’re wrong, then we will stand corrected,” she emphasized. She added that a patron, not employed by the school district, is willing to pay for this audit.

MVSD trustee and board negotiator Melissa Kaschmitter said she felt that request was out of the scope of negotiations.

“You’re talking about an entire budget when we’re here to negotiate certified personnel,” she said.

Kaschmitter and board trustee and fellow negotiator Brad Lutz spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting explaining how they got to their numbers for a budget following the failure of a $3.9 million levy in May.

“This is the first time we’ve heard of the insurance buy-down being included,” in the proposed cuts, McKinney said. “Altogether, that’s almost 50 percent of some people’s paychecks.” McKinney was adding the fact MVSD proposed to eliminate the district-paid portion of spouse and dependent insurance premiums, as well.

McKinney said that most cuts are coming down on the teaching staff and other school personnel, such as the eight furlough days the board recently voted on for noncertified employees.

“If only 15 percent of our budget is non-employee-related costs, and we need to trim 30 percent from the budget overall, there is no way to do it without affecting staff,” Lutz said.

McKinney voiced she is afraid the deep cuts will cause the district to lose teachers and staff.

“We will still leave it on the table — we are formally requesting an independent forensic audit,” McKinney said.

Lutz and Kaschmitter explained the board’s desire to keep $2.5 million in reserves.

“We need to have at least a 60-day balance to run the district in case of emergency,” Lutz said, which would be about $1.6 million; however, he said the board is most comfortable with leaving that balance at $2.5 million. He and Kaschmitter agreed the 60 days is what the state recommends.

McKinney likened this to saving for a vacation.

“You put the money aside for the vacation, but in the meantime, your refrigerator quits, and your car breaks down. You have to spend the money” on the necessities, she said.

“You do not get bonus points for keeping more than you need when you’re affecting people’s livelihoods,” she added. She also expressed that extracurriculars are just that — “extras.”

“We are not here to debate extracurricular activities,” Superintendent Todd Fiske stepped in.

“We can, because they are in the master agreement,” McKinney retorted.

Lutz said the state provides about $9 million for the education costs in MVSD, which actually cost about $13 million.

“That money has to come from somewhere — we cannot keep dipping into reserves,” he said.

— Lorie Palmer, Idaho County Free Press (Grangeville), Wednesday

St. Luke’s doc sifts through ‘haze of misinformation’

MCCALL — Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Luke’s McCall Chief of Staff Gregory Irvine’s work days were spent mostly in operating rooms, reconstructing joints or repairing damaged ligaments and bones.

But since the virus arrived in Idaho in March, Irvine’s responsibilities have shifted to heading up not just the hospital’s response to the virus, but the region’s as a whole.

“Effective planning and preparation greatly reduces the risks of catastrophic failure,” said Irvine, who specializes in orthopedic surgery. “In the case of the pandemic, inaction was simply not an option.”

At St. Luke’s McCall, precautions included ceasing all nonessential surgeries, which freed Irvine, 66, to spend more time fighting the virus.

Much of Irvine’s days are now spent briefing local governments, organizations and businesses on proper virus precautions and helping sift through “the haze of misinformation” circulating about the virus.

“Unfortunately, social media has become a vehicle for spreading of misinformation and conspiracy theories and points of view that don’t jive with legitimate science,” he said.

Irvine’s calming leadership has been invaluable to businesses and families in the region, said Andrew Mentzer, executive director for the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council.

“He has been a vital participant in our weekly COVID task force meetings and has stepped up when we need critical information from a health care perspective,” Mentzer said.

A “disturbing” rise in cases over the last month has made it “absolutely essential” for people to follow precautions, though Irvine admits that challenge is ongoing.

“We are not through this crisis yet, not even close,” he said. “We’re really at a fork in the road right now.”

Irvine urged the need for immediate action to prevent the virus from “overwhelming us like a tsunami” and forcing officials to return to sweeping shutdowns.

“If people do the right thing, we can keep the economy open, we can keep people working, we can get kids back to school,” he said.

Irvine sees the fight against the virus as akin to the efforts of Americans during World War II to make personal sacrifices to help troops.

“We need to understand that, like in any war, true American patriots need to do what’s necessary to defeat the enemy,” Irvine said.

That includes wearing masks, social distancing and increased hand hygiene, but the politicization of the virus and masks have undermined those efforts, he said.

“Anybody that resists that idea or tries to make a political statement by going without a mask is impeding our ability to fight this war and taking away one of our weapons,” Irvine said.

“The virus lives by its own rules and dictates what needs to be done,” he said. “We have very little control over that, except to deny it access to our bodies.”

— Drew Dodson, The Star-News (McCall), Thursday

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