School District 91 won’t like us for this, but forget all the reasons they’ve told you so far to vote for the upcoming two-tier bond.
The stuff about taxes staying the same and costs being accommodated by growth? Probable, but difficult to prove.
Acre after acre of new homes have been given the green light in the residential boom on the south side. The housing market remains competitive and extremely tight throughout the city and the region as a whole. Just this week, the city council approved the annexation of 90 acres of land around Lincoln Park on the north side of Idaho Falls. So where will these new homeowners send their kids to school?
Sunnyside Elementary right now can’t allow the kid who lives next door to the school to enroll if the family arrived this summer because of extreme overcrowding. Wouldn’t one assume those kids and the hundreds of neighbors who will be arriving in the very near future will overwhelm the existing schools in less than a decade?
The frustrations of teachers who have their chairs pushed against their whiteboards and students having to stand on desks to reach orange extension cords strung from the ceiling for their laptops? Old news.
The critics are right – the existing Idaho Falls High School and Skyline aren’t currently as overflowed as the Bonneville County Joint School District 93 high schools and junior highs were before they passed bonds to accommodate astronomical growth in Ammon. But does it really make sense to get to the point where students are crammed into temporary classrooms throughout their high school years when you see the need coming?
The argument we have to put a stop to is the bull honky of the “no-bid” contract argument. Seriously, don’t let that one fool you. The construction manager-general contractor method, since the Legislature authorized its use in 2014, is the norm for building public projects in Idaho. Basically, all it means is the district doesn’t have to do an endless stream of change orders as workers find the boiler room will be too small to fit the boiler and manufacturers run out of the right kind of tile. The contractor handles that fuss because they have to stick to the agreed-upon price come hell, high water or tariffs.
Back to our argument as to why you should brush aside District 91’s main talking points: They’ve so far missed the real hook.
If only this summer they’d sat down for a chat with former Ammon mayor Dana Kirkham, currently executive director at the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), before this second run at a bond. They could have discussed how the school district can plug directly into her proposal to turn eastern Idaho into a “business ecosystem.”
In case you missed it, Kirkham back in July offered a clear-eyed assessment of the need to not only market eastern Idaho to the world as an ideal spot to build businesses, but also for developing a comprehensive plan on how to make our region the next Silicon Valley — an international hub-think tank-paradise for one industry, most likely the development of cutting edge energy technologies.
Kirkham points out that Idaho has a low cost of living, plus cheap land, electricity and water. “Idaho National Laboratory, the Naval Reactors Facility and the FBI provide a level of expertise, credibility, innovation that you would not expect to find in a community this size,” she has said. “In a lot of ways, they’re the anchor tenants.”
With these particular anchor tenants come well-educated employees looking to well-educate their progeny and a demand for people who can be trained in various ways to support the main industry, like the nerdiest version of Detroit’s “Motor City.”
Even if that growth is spread out throughout REDI’s member communities of Ammon, Blackfoot, Chubbuck, Idaho Falls, Rexburg, Shelley, Ucon, Bingham and Bonneville counties, District 91 is simply missing the point if they’re not hanging the passage of this bond on the whole workforce pipeline idea that made CEI so powerfully attractive to voters.
If Idaho Falls fails to pass the D91 bond, it could become the one wrong turn that sent the community on a long, winding side route it may never catch up from.
Plus, it would be the ultimate irony for a community to see the crystal clear need for an entirely new taxing district to support education through a community college, yet send its students to crumbling and crowded public high schools. What message is that sending to businesses looking to move to Eastern Idaho to become part of a thrumming ecosystem built around next-generation science and cutting edge energy technology? “Hey there world-class scientists, come to work in Idaho Falls, but don’t bring your family because we don’t have any vision.”
The idea that we could soon be educating our kids to stay in this community permanently as workers in a world-leading industrial and business ecosystem isn’t just exciting — it’s uniquely incredible.
Let’s help District 91 keep up by voting Yes to both tiers of the proposed bond on Aug. 28.