Idaho Falls School District 91 trustees hope to put a somewhat slimmed-down high school bond proposal on the May ballot.
The new proposal would still likely call for the construction of a new Idaho Falls High School and extensive renovations at Skyline High School, but the cost would be reduced somewhat from the $110 million proposal that got 58 percent support — short of the two-thirds needed to pass — in November.
One possibility trustees are considering is a “tiered” ballot, possibly with an $85- to $90-million base proposal for the two schools, then with tiers where voters could also decide whether to make additions such as bigger auditoriums or gyms and athletic facilities.
Trustees met for about four hours Friday, going over specific cost savings and discussing how to move forward. At the end of the meeting, they ruled out trying for a measure on the March ballot — the deadline to file would be in about a week — bu seemed inclined to move a bit more quickly and not wait until August, which would be the next time after May that they could put something on the ballot.
“The people I’m talking to want us to move forward,” Trustee David Lent said.
Trustees went over a list of places to save money. The few things all five agreed on cutting — removing eight classrooms at the new Idaho Falls High School and combining the media center and commons area there and reducing the site work and the size of the administration area at Skyline — would save about $6 million, which would only translate into a bond that’s about $2 million lower due to the expected increase in construction costs over what was in the last proposal.
“We have to make $4 million in cuts just to get to the $110,” board Chairwoman Lisa Burtenshaw said.
There also was majority support for doing something to save money on the auditoriums and athletic facilities at both high schools, although no agreement about how to do it emerged Friday. The auditoriums are a major part of the cost of both schools, at about $7.8 million each. The proposed auxiliary gymnasium at Idaho Falls would cost $2.475 million and the weight and athletic training room at Skyline would cost $2.3 million.
Lent suggested only building an auditorium at Skyline. Other possibilities that came up were reducing the size of one of the auditoriums, or putting some of these facilities as options on a tiered bond.
Superintendent George Boland said trustees need to get more staff input about how some spaces in the schools are being used now and what might be needed before deciding what to cut out of the design.
“They’re the ones that are going to be in those buildings, working in those buildings,” he said.
More generally, trustees discussed striking a balance between addressing concerns among some voters about the project being too expensive and respecting the wishes of the majority of voters who supported the previous proposal. Boland is meeting Jan. 23 with a polling company which will do some polling in early February to learn more about people’s views on the bond and what options might get more public support.
The board also heard from local Realtor Mike Hicks and Bonneville County Assessor Blake Mueller. Hicks said the bond’s supporters need to be better prepared and do a better job of getting their message out.
“Those that are speaking against this are very organized, and you’ve got to be more organized than they are,” he said.
Based on the district’s projections of growth, the bond would not have resulted in an increase in the tax levy, although even if the levy rate stays the same, if your assessment goes up generally your tax bill will as well. Mueller suggested showing the public projections on how the bond could affect the tax bill of different-valued properties.
Hicks criticized the anti-bond campaign, but he also mentioned his own moment of shock when he walked into the voting booth and saw the total $145.3 million cost — $110 million plus interest over 20 years. He agreed trying to sell the bond as if it won’t cost people anything could make them skeptical.
“The minute we start telling people they’re going to get something for nothing, they’re going to be suspicious,” he said.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757.