IDAHO FALLS — Sunnyside Elementary is overflowing with students. Closets, storage spaces, hallways, and the principal’s office have all become impromptu classrooms.
“It’s just this shuffle every year of how do we fit everything in here,” Kylie Dixon, the principal at Sunnyside, said in a Wednesday presentation to the Idaho Falls School District’s Board of Trustees.
A new school would help alleviate the overcrowding, and that’s why Idaho Falls Superintendent James Shank made a new suggestion at a Wednesday night work session.
Shank proposed trustees put a 10-year, $32.5 million plant facilities levy — not a bond measure — on the May ballot to pay for a new elementary school. A plant facilities levy would only require 55% voter approval — as opposed to the two-thirds approval needed to pass bonds.
That lower threshold is appealing, especially since Idaho Falls’ record $250-million bond failed last fall with 58% support.
“The rationale to build a school south of town I think is evidence-strong,” Shank said.
How can a plant facilities levy be used to fund new construction?
Basically, districts go through a lease-to-own process so they don’t have to use a bond. Look for a more in-depth explainer on this topic from EdNews next week.
But Trustee Paul Haacke expressed his reservations. One complaint from voters who opposed the bond was that the $250 million price tag was based on a cost estimate rather than a more exact cost bid. Haacke suggested the board seek a bid on a new school before putting a number on the ballot.
The board did not make any decisions Wednesday and will continue discussing potential solutions to overcrowding – which is also impacting Idaho Falls High School — in the months to come.
In the meantime, Dixon and her staff are contending with a long list of concerns. Dixon shared those with trustees on Wednesday, and said she can no longer solve the overcrowding problems — she’s already done everything she can.
The music program is housed on a cart that’s wheeled from room to room. Speech therapists, occupational therapists, and psychologists work out of a 12- by 12-foot space that was meant for storage. The gifted and talented students hold class in a closet or the hallway.
And Dixon has already given up her office for student use — she totes around her laptop and sets up shop where she can, which is often in the foyer.
“(Administrators) try to make the best working conditions and the best culture and environment we can … but when there’s things like this that are structural system overloads, I can’t fix this as a principal,” she said. “We’ve been dealing with it for a while and our kids deserve better than that.”
The overcrowding is also stressful for staff as they manage large class sizes and limited space, Haacke pointed out.
“We could lose staff because they can’t sprint forever,” he said.
While the trustees consider their options for potentially building a new school, they are also starting a process of redrawing boundaries to more equitably distribute students and alleviate overcrowding. That would reduce some of the pressure on Sunnyside, but Dixon said that wouldn’t be a long-term solution.
“It’s a step in the right direction for sure, but it feels like a Band-aid to a bigger problem,” she said.