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Two Men, Three Jobs

For whom the school bell tolls


Wednesday, Aug. 25, as Boise Weekly was hitting the streets, so were the city's school children. In its 147-year history, the 2010-2011 school year may be the Boise School District's most challenging. Facing a growing curriculum and austere budget, the harshest lesson this year may be economics. Dr. Don Coberly is the district's new superintendent, pulling double duty as the district's leader in addition to his role as curriculum coordinator. His deputy is Dr. Pete Bailey, serving the district since 1985.

What kind of student were you?

Coberly: I think I was an average student. I graduated from Borah High School with a 3.2 average.

Do you remember teachers who really inspired you?

Coberly: There were three. Dennis Roggenbuck taught me math analysis. He was a very demonstrative active teacher. Bob Firman was a legendary calculus teacher and Elsa Bennett taught me world history. All three were student-centered. By the time I went to the University of Idaho, they had really taught me how to think.

How many kids are in Boise public schools this fall?

Coberly: 25,200.

What is your 2010-2011 budget?

Coberly: $188 million. That's down about $12 million from last year.

What did you have to do to keep the doors open at the Marian Pritchett School, Boise's school for pregnant teens and new mothers?

Bailey: We had heard for several years that some legislators intended to cut funding to the school some day. So when those cuts came, we needed to make some serious decisions. We spent a great deal of time examining what changes and what cuts we had to make to keep the school open. And yes, that meant some staff cuts and changes in operations.

Coberly: I've got to tell you, I have a difficult time going to the Marian Pritchett graduation each spring. It's so emotional: the poetry, the music, the goodbyes.

Tell us about the changes at some of Boise's primary schools.

Bailey: Nine elementary schools will have different hours, starting at 9:15 a.m. rather than the traditional 8:45 a.m. The benefit comes from a management of school bus routes that will afford some savings.

But how about parents who still have to drop off their children at the earlier time?

Bailey: Each principal at the nine schools will have some kind of planned activity that will make up for that time. There will be reading clubs, chess clubs or math clubs.

Do you see this as a permanent change?

Bailey: We'll just have to see how this works. I don't see any change back to the earlier time in the near future.

What are your biggest financial challenges this year?

Coberly: All of our staff will be taking three days of furlough. We cut assistant principals and counselors at three of our four high schools. A number of our supervisory personnel went from full time to half time. And we didn't replace my previous job. (Coberly is still responsible for creation and supervision of the district's curriculum.)

Do you have two titles?

Coberly: I just have one title, but I have two jobs.

And supplies?

Coberly: We're not buying any new textbooks. It's our third straight year.

What's the risk of doing that?

Coberly: You might be able to go four years, but sooner or later, you're an edition behind and that's very critical when it comes to history and science. Teachers are trying to supplement with the Internet but you need a standard text to support your curriculum.