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For the week of Feb. 9 through Feb. 15, 2000

May school facilities election scheduled

District board to place $37.7 million package before voters


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

A major school package that would allow district facilities to grow with the valley’s ever expanding population came one step closer to being implemented Monday night when district officials decided unanimously to put the issue before voters in May.

District superintendent Jim Lewis presented the package to the school board at district headquarters in Hailey. All five trustees voted to accept the plan without changes.

The plan comes after 10 months of work by a team of 120 business leaders, teachers, students, administrators and consultants. Calling itself the Strategic Vision Facilities Committee, the team has been working with the community to craft a vision of how the school district will look in the next decade.

Committee members say that with district enrollment growing at an annual rate of 3.1 percent, schools will soon be bursting at the seams. Enrollment projections show Wood River High School reaching maximum classroom capacity in the next three years.

Some other schools in Blaine County have already reached their limit, and are now shunting students into ill-equipped, portable buildings.

To remedy this and other related problems, the district plans to build a new $19.6 million high school and a new $8.1 million elementary school. Other projects include a $5 million Carey School renovation, a $2.7 million Wood River Middle School expansion, a new $1 million bus barn and several smaller projects.

After the new high school is completed in 2003, the district plans to lease space in the old high school to the Blaine County Recreation District and the College of Southern Idaho, while retaining a third of the building for use as a technical academy. The new high school would be located adjacent to the current school and would retain use of existing sports fields.

Dave Teater, a consultant working with the Coeur d’Alene-based The Matrix Group, has been leading the Strategic Vision planning process.

Teater commended the committee’s idea to lease space in the old high school because it allows the three entities—the school district, CSI and the rec district—to share classrooms and parking. It also permits the proposed new high school to be built at a significant discount.

At Mondays night’s meeting, superintendent Lewis pointed out several other advantages of building a new high school:

  • It would prevent 18 months of disruptive "jack hammering" while renovations are completed.

  • The new high school would serve the needs of an expanding population for the next 10 years, whereas the renovated high school would not.

  • A new high school would include significant new safety and technological features.

  • A new high school would be built with modern educational philosophies in mind.

However, Lewis said he doesn’t want people to think the district is "building palaces."

Compared with an 850-student high school built for $24 million this year in Jackson Hole and a 1,000-student high school built three years ago in Burley for $12.1 million, Lewis said Blaine County’s plan is right in line with expected costs.

One person out of nearly 40 in attendance criticized the plan.

Tom Remler lamented that ever increasing taxes needed to fund these kinds of projects have required both parents in households to work, which has resulted in less "moral character" in children.

Remler attempted to show how Blaine County School District’s spending compares unfavorably to the Los Angeles Unified School District. Board members, however, said Remler’s figures were incorrect and gave an inaccurate picture of the district’s budget.

"If you had spent the same amount of time on these numbers as this team has," Lewis said, "your numbers would be a lot closer to the truth."

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The committee proposes to fund the plan through a plant facilities levy.

Unlike a school bond, which requires the district to borrow the entire amount of money before beginning any proposed projects, a facilities levy allows the district to use taxpayers’ money on a "pay as you go" basis.

Because the district is asking taxpayers for $4 million per year for the next 10 years, rather than an up-front $40 million lump sum, district financial expert Mike Chatterton says the plant levy could save taxpayers over $27 million in interest payments.

Another major advantage for the school district is the 55 percent voter approval needed to pass the levy. That number is calculated from the total indebtedness of the district (about $14 million) and the amount of the levy. A school bond, on the other hand, would require an almost 67 percent voter approval.

If the plan passes, taxpayers are looking at an estimated average increase in property taxes of $64.75 per year for every $100,000 of taxable assessed value.

In response to these figures, parent Jane Brown said that home budgets are about prioritizing. "This vision is not just about buildings," she said, "It offers unbelievable opportunities to kids."

 

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