Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Youth Challenge gets further support from Idaho’s governor

By Alannah Allbrett

Idaho National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program, which aims to open an alternative school in Pierce, has received a positive boost from Governor C.L. Butch Otter. Otter has requested a “budgetary shift” of one million dollars (with an attendant spending authorization of $1,250,000.) in Idaho’s 2013 fiscal budget. That plan received a setback, however, when the joint budget committee rejected the recommendation last Friday.

Tyler Mallard, Special Assistant to the Governor on Uniform Services, said their office remains optimistic that Youth Challenge in Idaho will still have a satisfactory conclusion and reaffirmed the governor’s intention to “continue to champion” the program, stating that it is a “win/win situation for the military, the youth that it will benefit, as well as the community.” He said that the intent of requesting a fund shift was to get the start-up money allocated, but if it does not go through immediately, “It will in no way jeopardize the commitment to the program.” Mallard stated that the legislature will still have the ability to revisit the issue until the budget is finalized but that it is the prerogative of the legislature.

Major General Gary Saylor, military advisor to Governor Otter, has spearheaded the youth challenge program in Idaho since its inception. The program is just one of the 33 challenge programs located in 27 states. The centers follow a well-rounded curriculum that includes physical fitness, community volunteerism, discipline, and mentoring to achieve its 90 percent success rate in turning around at-risk kids.

Jerome County’s State Representative, Maxine Bell, as the co-chair of the budget committee, questioned why the Guard is involved in education stating, “I’m not sure why they’re getting into that line of work.”

In a recent interview with the Clearwater Tribune, General Saylor addressed the issue saying, “A number of legislators have asked that same question. There are a number of reasons,” he responded. “The Youth Challenge program got started back in the 90’s, in an attempt to see of the National Guard could help correct the number of [high school] drop outs. The Guard is involved in lots of communities – literally in every zip code in America. We are citizens of Idaho ourselves,” he said. “The test program was very successful throughout the nation. We constantly strive to continue military education for our own soldiers, and we are about education,” said Saylor. “But this is more than education. It is also about how to be a good citizen, about team work, leadership, and supporting causes other than just your own. We are continually trying to educate our legislators and feel very strongly about the value of this program.”

The original target date for opening the alternative school, located at the former Pierce Elementary building located on 21 1/2 acres, was for the fall of 2012. With funding problems and the need to establish a 501(c)(3) tax status, however, that date got moved to January 1, 2013, with classes beginning by Jan 7.  

The federal government pays for 75 percent of the ongoing costs. Corporate donations or monies from the state’s general fund would make up the difference. Saylor said there are several foundations which have given their support already or have pledged future support.

When asked if Governor Otter has been a staunch supporter of the program, Saylor said, ‘“Absolutely! He has been behind it for the last 15 months; he’s been on board since day one.”

The one million dollar appropriation would go towards startup costs remodeling the school, and hiring staff, the first of which would be personnel to market the program. General Saylor said the Guard would send out job announcements through the Gowen Field Human Resources office, through the usual hiring channels. Jobs will be opened to the non-military, public.

If funding and startup is achieved, the center would provide 56 direct jobs and 40 indirect jobs (a 3 percent increase) for Clearwater County.

Saylor said he is still hopeful that the measure will get passed in this legislative session. The governor’s budget director, Wayne Hammon, said, “There’s plenty of time to address lawmakers’ concerns this session.”

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