Nearly every month for the past 14 years, Carl Ericson, the Zone 5 trustee and chairman of the Kuna School District board of trustees, and superintendent Wendy Johnson have met to plan the agenda for the monthly board meeting. Soon, they will have their final meeting together before he officially resigns on July 16.
According to Johnson, she misses him already.
Ericson has served the district during some key moments in Kuna’s history, including much of its rapid growth, the 2008 recession, and all of the bonds and levies in between. According to Johnson, his leadership, analytical mindset, legal expertise and tactful sense of humor were invaluable to the district.
“I’ve always appreciated that Carl put the needs of students first and foremost in his decisions,” Johnson said. “He’s been steady and strong. He has pretty strong ties to the community, and he has a pretty analytical brain, so he’s been a great thinking partner to the board and to me.”
Ericson has played a role in passing several of the bonds and levies that were necessary to keep the district moving forward during challenging times, according to Johnson. When the recession hit in 2008, the district faced a several-million-dollar cut to the budget, and Ericson, with his legal background, was a part of the negotiations that kept teachers employed.
“Eighty-six percent of our budget is people,” Johnson said. “So when you have to cut, how do you do that without affecting people?”
Some way or another, Ericson helped figure it out. Further, Johnson said, he took the calculated risks to run levies that would help them keep jobs, even if it meant cutting wages.
“He’s been brave to be able to advocate for our financial needs, and by helping us have the resources we need, we’ve been able to make amazing opportunities happen for kids,” Johnson said, adding that more kids in the Kuna School District are earning certifcations and taking dual-credit courses than ever before. Those opportunities, she said, were helped by Ericson’s work.
Fellow board member J.D. Grant said that his ability to educate the community regarding bonds and levies, and help get them passed, was his greatest asset.
“The biggest thing (he did) is to help pass bonds and levies,” Grant said. “He’s been instrumental and a leader in the community to try to help people understand how important it is to have a solid education for our kids in the community and then have them help us pass levies so we can have more teachers and less kids per class.”
To Ericson, one of the biggest successes of his tenure was the development of the 20-year capital plan in 2017. The board hired experts, had input from the city, and tried to plan out and conservatively estimate how much growth would happen, where new schools might be located, and how they would finance them. According to Ericson, they were able to put in place a new plan that wouldn’t raise levy rates.
The goal throughout all of this, of course, is to educate Kuna’s students and provide the type of learning opportunities that will carry them through life. Finding the money to attract and keep teachers, as well as provide those opportunities, is easier said than done, and Ericson said that budgeting was always a struggle.
“We’re in the business of educating our kids. That’s why we exist,” Ericson said. “You’re not going to be able to educate your kids unless you have a dedicated group of teachers and administrators (for whom) that’s their focus: teaching kids and making sure they have the best education possible. That’s the other thing — making sure that, with limited resources, salaries are enough to attract and keep good teachers.”
But beyond budgeting and the other stressors that come with the position, Ericson said the toughest part of the job was the interpersonal aspect. Dealing with disciplinary hearings for teachers or expulsion hearings for children was especially difficult.
While there hasn’t been an expulsion hearing in several years, he said, in a community as close-knit as Kuna, the principle of dealing with the personal lives of people one might know is a challenge.
“The thing that’s been the most heart-wrenching, the biggest challenge to me, is when we have kids who have to go through the expulsion process,” Ericson said. “Because at some point, that means that something has failed them. It’s heart-wrenching to have to come up with a decision that somebody has to be expelled from your schools.”
In the years that Ericson has been on the board, they’ve opened Initial Point, an alternative high school, and started construction on a second comprehensive high school. They also opened Crimson Point, Reed and Silver Trail elementary schools, then added four classes to Reed Elementary and Silver Trail Elementary; created and expanded a second middle school, passed a $25.5 million bond that helped fund the performing arts center and expand the basketball court at Kuna High School, and recently implemented all-day kindergarten, according to Johnson.
Further, when Ericson started his position in 2005, the school district’s k-12 enrollment was at 3,867. Since then, it has grown to 5,440.
The former chairman has lived in Kuna since 1998, and watched all five of his children graduate from the Kuna school system before going off to college and starting their professions. Ericson works as legal counsel for Idaho Counties Risk Managament Program, or ICRMP, and has been married to his wife, Katy, for 38 years.
Ericson said that for his successor, who was appointed on June 11, he recommends just putting in the time, patience and energy needed to understand the position, the budget and the community’s needs.
Superintendent Johnson also had one small request of the community.
“If people see him,” Johnson said, “they should thank him.”