Investing in new schools is like buying anything from cars to stocks.
Conservative buyers look for value, low risk and a likelihood of strong returns in the
form of cash or good service. Voters should evaluate the proposed school plant facilities
levy the same way.
The Blaine County School District has put forward a bold plan. Drafted by
a 125-member advisory committee of business people, land planners, parents, teachers and
students, the plan has much to recommend it.
Its smart money. The committee did its arithmetic. It figured
out that if the school district pays as it goes instead of paying heavy interest on bond
issues, taxpayers will get a lot more bang for the buck. If voters approve the $40 million
dollar levy$4 million a year over 10 yearsthe money will be spent on local
facilities instead of on heavy interest payments to bondholders.
Its planned well and its flexible. The new schools and
school expansions should accommodate student numbers anticipated in the next 10 years.
That means schools wont have to bulge, students wont have to suffer, and
taxpayers wont have to panic to get adequate facilities built. Yet, should student
numbers drop, the district can delay or kill plans to build a new elementary school in the
The plan makes needed space available for rent to the Blaine County
Recreation District and the College of Southern Idaho. Both have expressed interest in
occupying space in the existing high school and offering programs there, although there
are no firm agreements to date.
Its innovative education. For decades, critics have scored
the nations public education system for failing to acknowledge that not every
student will go to college. They point out that society needs skilled builders, chefs and
office technicians as much as it needs computer programmers. They argue that high school
is the place many young adults should get training for good jobs.
The proposal will do that. Once a new high school is built, the old one
will provide space for academies that will teach skills to make them employable in the
local economy. CSI may provide such classes if a partnership is established.
Other partnerships with Idaho universities could give college-bound
students a boost by enabling them to accrue both high school and college credits in a
Its savvy politics. Its a fair and honest plan. School
officials were wise to bring together non-educators of disparate interests to study the
districts needs and building options. The proposal offers something for students and
families in every area of the county. From a child care facility at Hemingway School in
Ketchum, to a long-awaited new wing at Carey School, the proposal is fair to all.
The district and the committee have hidden nothing. The district is
treating local voters like the smart adults they are.
The plans not perfect, but none are. Like any investment, there are
For example, the school district has no firm agreement with the recreation
district or CSI. It has put forward no alternative plan should either entity decide not to
use space in the existing high school.
The district has no idea how many students will enroll in academies or
seek college credits and what impact more students in such programs will have on the
countys general budget.
Right now, Blaine County spends $85,152 a year, less than half of one
percent of its annual budget, on its share of tuition for residents who attend CSI. With
expanded programs in the county, that amount will rise.
The district has offered no analysis of how much its maintenance and
operations budget would increase or decrease with expanded facilities.
Only time and experience will answer those questions, and the answers
shouldnt break the bankespecially considering the fact that the district will
be saving $28 million in interest payments by not floating a bond for all of the new
The biggest question that remains is whether voters will agree to shoulder
anywhere from $43.08 a year on a $100,000 owner-occupied home to $258.48 for a $350,000
owner-occupied home, or more for homes of higher value.
It looks like a good investment. It looks low risk.
It has the potential for high returns from graduates who succeed in an
increasingly complex world. Passage of the plant facilities levy would be a wise start for
local education in this new century.