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Editorials
For the week of April 26 through May 2, 2000

School levy looks like
good investment


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.

It’s 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 years—the money will be spent on local facilities instead of on heavy interest payments to bondholders.

It’s planned well and it’s flexible. The new schools and school expansions should accommodate student numbers anticipated in the next 10 years. That means schools won’t have to bulge, students won’t have to suffer, and taxpayers won’t 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 year 2004.

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.

It’s innovative education. For decades, critics have scored the nation’s 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 single class.

It’s savvy politics. It’s a fair and honest plan. School officials were wise to bring together non-educators of disparate interests to study the district’s 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.

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The plan’s not perfect, but none are. Like any investment, there are risks.

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 county’s 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 shouldn’t break the bank—especially considering the fact that the district will be saving $28 million in interest payments by not floating a bond for all of the new construction.

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.

 

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