Next week, voters in Bonneville Joint School District 93 will decide whether to build a new middle school.
Election Day is March 13, and the proposal needs two-thirds support to pass. So what’s it all about?
How much is the bond for?
$35,319,840. It will be repaid over 17-and-a-half years. There will be about $14.9 million in interest, of which a little more than $5 million will be repaid by district taxpayers and $9.8 million out of the state’s bond levy equalization fund, meaning the total estimated local cost of the bond will be $40,357,399.
What will it do?
The money would be used for:
• A new 1,000-student middle school for seventh- and eighth-graders;
• Replacing the roof at Iona Elementary School;
• A new student drop-off area and other safety improvements at Falls Valley Elementary School;
• Buying land for future school sites, and
• Design work for future upgrades to Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools.
How much will it cost patrons?
The district’s tax levy rate now is $5.80 per $1,000 in assessed value, and district officials say the tax rate won’t go up or down whether the bond passes or fails. Due to the district’s growing tax base, it could bond for as much as $70 million without having to raise this rate, said Superintendent Chuck Shackett.
“The simplest way to look at it is, the more people moving into our boundaries and the more businesses building within our boundaries, which is skyrocketing, the more people are paying taxes,” he said. “So the more people paying taxes, the more we can bond for.”
Why does the district want a new middle school?
Because there are more students. District 93 is now the fourth-largest school district in the state, just surpassing the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District in enrollment as of November, and the biggest outside of the Treasure Valley.
The district has about 1,900 middle school students. This is the same number as in 2005 — but in 2005, middle school included sixth- through eighth-graders, and sixth-graders were moved to elementary school starting in 2006. Since that change, middle school enrollment has gone from 1,276 in 2006 to 1,892 in 2017, according to the district’s numbers.
Where will it be built?
On a 40-acre parcel the district owns east of Idaho Falls next to Thunder Ridge High School, which is scheduled to open this fall. The new middle school’s attendance zone would be the same as for Thunder Ridge.
What will it look like?
The design isn’t done yet. But Kevin Bodily, a principal with NBW Architects of Idaho Falls, which is working on the plans with the district, went over some of the initial ideas at a public meeting on the proposal last week. He said the middle school won’t have an auditorium, to save money, since Thunder Ridge is next door and they could use that one. He also talked about how it will include collaborative learning spaces, featuring more comfortable furniture and a more open design, in addition to traditional classrooms.
“That also (reflects) a new approach to the environment and the educational process (that) you see in today’s buildings,” he said.
He also talked about security. There would be one secure main entrance, he said, and the individual classrooms and larger “pods” could be locked down with the press of a button. The interior doors would be solid, and each pod would have an entrance to the outside if the students and teachers needed to escape.
How did we get here?
The district’s growth, and the need for more schools to accommodate it, is not a new issue. In November 2015, the district got voter approval for the bond to build Thunder Ridge on the fourth try.
In June 2017, the school board voted to put a $58.5 million bond on the August ballot to build a new middle school and special education hub. However, some people supported building an elementary school and packaging it with a special needs hub, and trustees scrapped the ballot measure in July after some turnover on the board.
In December, trustees decided on a “tiered” ballot measure, where voters would vote on a middle school and an elementary school/special needs hub separately. The middle school would have been the first tier, meaning if it wasn’t approved, the elementary school couldn’t be. In January, though, the board decided to go with just the elementary school for now.
Why not an elementary school or special ed hub?
Politics is part of it. The board was debating the issue in the shadow of the failure of a $110 million high school bond proposal in neighboring Idaho Falls District 91. And some trustees feared too large of a bond would lead to more organized opposition and be less likely to pass.
At a meeting in December, the board was split 3-2, with a majority supporting a middle school bond but not ready on the elementary school. Other than the politics of a bigger bond, reasons that came up included unsettled questions about the school’s location and the special needs hub.
“We’ve learned that if you ask for too much all at once, the answer will be no,” Shackett said. “Especially with the two-thirds majority, it’s so hard to get that.”
When would the middle school open?
Fall 2021, Shackett said. If the bond is approved, he said it would likely take nine months to a year to finalize the designs and bid out the project before construction could start.
So what about the elementary school and special ed hub?
They’re not dead. Shackett has said he hopes the board will decide to bring these proposals before the voters in August or November of this year. If that bond is approved later this year, Shackett said the new elementary school could open at the same time as the middle school. Elementary schools don’t take as long to build, since they’re smaller, have fewer amenities and don’t have specialized classrooms such as science labs.
Where can I vote?
At your regular polling place March 13. Early voting has begunand continues through March 9. You can vote early at the county elections office.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews