Wednesday, January 13, 2010

School district must keep faith with voters

When voters approved the $59.8 million, 10-year plant facilities levy for local schools last fall, it was a win for schools and a win for the local economy.

The Blaine County School District promised it would spend as much of the levy as possible locally on new classroom technology, safety and security equipment, new classrooms, new maintenance and food facilities, and retrofits and energy-saving installations at all schools.

The spending would stimulate the ailing local economy, put people to work and inject money into the economy that would multiply as it flowed from hand to hand.

The spending would be especially important in the building sector that had been hard hit by the national recession.

The district is now looking at a proposal that would get the money flowing sooner than expected, before July 1, and lock in today's low costs on new heating equipment and construction of a storage and maintenance facility and a cafeteria for Bellevue Elementary.

The federal government will provide tax credits to purchasers of certificates of participation that the district could issue with court approval to get the levy proceeds in hand and working soon.

Many local voters who are still coping with the hard economic conditions let their commitment to community, education and kids guide them in approving the levy. They could have taken the every-penny-counts approach and defeated the levy, but they didn't.

Instead, they made a wiser and more intelligent route.

Now, some members of the Blaine County School District board of trustees are unsure whether to take advantage of the short-term borrowing opportunity offered by the certificates and the low costs of construction.

And critics argue that the district will shortchange students because new buildings would require maintenance costs to start a little earlier and impinge upon the district's budget for classroom instruction.

However, the little if anything that the district will need to pay to get projects going early will be offset by savings when prices of labor and materials re-establish themselves as the economy improves.

Critics and the school board members with cold feet about acceleration of the timetable need to remember the win-win deal the district promised voters.

Both need to review how accelerating maintenance costs in old facilities would have battered classroom budgets had voters defeated the levy.

Then, they need to keep faith with voters and with the kids who will benefit from the best K-12 education in Idaho.

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