The letter had been written, but Renae Bafus had second thoughts about sending it. That is, until she received a goodbye email from a fellow teacher at north-central Idaho's Troy Junior-Senior High School. Bafus' colleague had lost her job and would be looking for a job teaching elsewhere.
Bafus said it was one loss too many for Troy, a school district near Moscow with 293 students.
"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," Bafus said.
So she sent the four-page letter she had written to Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.
"I have held onto this letter for days wondering if it is the right thing to do," Bafus wrote in the letter. "But tonight, as I received notification of yet another teacher at Troy leaving, I am saddened and disheartened and feel it is time to send you my letter. I am writing to make sure you are aware of what my school district is going through and with this knowledge I hope you will work to make changes on how schools are funded."
Bafus reminded Ybarra the Troy district had—every school year in the past decade—turned to voters to approve a levy to help fund education. In many Idaho communities, school levies are used for projects like building a library or funding a new program. In Troy, the levy was needed to keep the lights on.
In March, the district once again turned to the community, asking to approve a $1.3 million levy.
"We have expenses going up," Bafus said. "A need for special education, transportation, our food program does not make ends meet, our utilities are rising. All those things combined, and to keep education where it was, we need more money."
Bafus said Troy had always been supportive of the school and passed the levy each year—but not this year. Voters were asked again in May to approve a scaled-down version of the levy for $1.2 million. Again, the levy failed.
Soon after, Bafus lost her job teaching business and computer applications at Troy Junior-Senior—a job she held for more than a decade. She was also the school adviser for Business Professionals of America. Making matters worse, her husband's position as the football coach was also cut.
So far, in 2015, seven Troy educators either lost their positions or saw their jobs reduced: positions teaching music, business, athletics and agriculture; student council; student counselors; and art, among others, were eliminated. The only teachers retained at the school were those teaching math, science, English and other core classes.
Bafus' letter to Ybarra detailed the school's plight and insisted districts shouldn't continue relying on levies to avoid teacher layoffs. She wrote adequate funding should come directly from the Idaho Legislature and, it's a constitutional mandate to provide a high quality education to Idaho's students.
"It is hard for me to fathom how the state is trying to micromanage teacher salaries yet there is no system in place to evaluate the benefit of the 136 tax breaks that are $1 billion more than our entire K-12 budget," Bafus wrote.
After nearly a month, Ybarra replied with a letter of her own.
"[A]s an educator, know that you are supported and I have walked in your shoes," Ybarra wrote. "What you can count on is my voice in advocating for education in Idaho and listening to the concerns of educators throughout my term as superintendent. I have said time and time again, I am not a politician but a lifelong [educator] who understands the hard work that you do."
Ybarra later told Boise Weekly she was "proud" of Bafus for sending her letter, adding that she receives many letters and emails from teachers around the state who are concerned about school funding.
"The funding formula is left up to the legislators," Ybarra said. "That does not mean that I am not an advocate, which I truly am. That means I will turn over every leaf, turn over every rock, shake every tree, dig down in the couch cushions for every dime we can get for educators. I make sure I am present at the table, interjecting myself in guiding these discussions looking for solutions."
Bafus said those solutions are long overdue and relations between Troy schools and the community have turned downright "rotten."
"There were 'Vote No' signs put up around town," said Bafus. "I was angry at first that they wouldn't stand behind our school and fund it. I felt horrible for the kids and parents still there. It's a very scary feeling, like the carpet is going to be pulled out from under you. To not have sports or the classes you were looking forward to taking... I guess it just got to be too much [to ask for]."
Bafus said when a second vote came around in May, dozens of Troy students picketed the polling center, urging people to pass the levy. Their efforts didn't work.
In her response to Bafus, Ybarra wrote that Idaho lawmakers had "provided equity." She added, "I believe the more important question concerning the Idaho Legislature is continuing to move towards adequacy in funding."
When asked if Ybarra was implying the state hadn't provided adequate funding for schools, the superintendent was reluctant to answer the question directly.
"You know, it's a really long conversation," Ybarra told Boise Weekly. "It's a vertical and horizontal conversation. At the state level, we talk about equity. The state has provided equity, but when you talk about the horizontal piece, that's getting down to the local piece, the levies. That's where we start having conversations about what adequacy looks like."
Asked if the exodus of Idaho teachers weighs heavily on her—knowing experienced educators were being laid off because there isn't enough money to go around—Ybarra said, "When it comes to kids, I am always concerned."
Finally, when asked if she had personally witnessed good teachers leave Idaho because of inadequate funding, Ybarra turned the conversation to focusing on "resources and achievement."
As for Bafus, there is still one chance she may get her job back in Troy. In a last ditch effort, the school district will turn to the voters again on Tuesday, Aug. 25, asking to approve an even-leaner levy—$995,000. If approved, it would not restore all teaching positions, but Bafus and her husband would get their jobs back.
"Usually I work on things all summer long but this summer, I've not done anything," Bafus said. "I'm kind of bitter about spending the time on something that I don't even know exists. ... I'm just crossing my fingers, hoping that this passes and we can keep on advocating for education support at the state level and try to heal our community."