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 valleys ever expanding population came one step closer to being implemented
Monday night when district officials decided unanimously to put the issue before voters in
District superintendent Jim Lewis presented the package to the school
board at district headquarters in Hailey. All five trustees voted to accept the plan
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 dAlene-based The
Matrix Group, has been leading the Strategic Vision planning process.
Teater commended the committees idea to lease space in the old high
school because it allows the three entitiesthe school district, CSI and the rec
districtto share classrooms and parking. It also permits the proposed new high
school to be built at a significant discount.
At Mondays nights meeting, superintendent Lewis pointed out several
other advantages of building a new high school:
However, Lewis said he doesnt want people to think the district is
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 Countys 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 Districts spending
compares unfavorably to the Los Angeles Unified School District. Board members, however,
said Remlers figures were incorrect and gave an inaccurate picture of the
"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."
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
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."