Idaho Falls trustees approve a $33 million plant facilities levy for the May ballot

There is a critical need for a new elementary school in the Idaho Falls School District. On that, trustees and a local tax watchdog group — two entities that are usually at odds — can agree. 

The question is: How does the district secure funds to make the school a reality?

With a history of failed bonds on its record, the district is turning to a new solution — a plant facilities levy. At its regular March 16 meeting, the school board unanimously approved putting a 10-year, $33 million plant facilities levy on the May ballot. 

The somewhat novel approach allows the district to seek 55% approval, as opposed to the 66.67% (a two-thirds supermajority) that’s required for bonds to pass in Idaho (one of the few states with such a high threshold).

West Ada School District similarly approved a plant facilities levy — one intended to fund new buildings — last month. As Idaho Falls becomes the second recent district to do so, the unusual approach to building new schools is becoming more common. 

The district made the decision after months of discussion, and after a recent ballot victory — last week, its two-year, $13.6 million supplement levy passed with a whopping 80.7% support. More than $10.8 million of those funds will go toward salaries and benefits. 

Even the district’s sometime-nemesis, the local watchdog group D91 Taxpayers (which has actively campaigned against Idaho Falls’ last three attempts to pass bonds), extended its support and congratulations. 

“We saw the need for this supplemental levy to pass,” Lisa Keller, a spokesperson for D91 Taxpayers, said at the board meeting. “It’s good to know that the band teachers and the art teachers are going to be funded again because I feel like that is an important part of schools.”

Keller, who spoke during the patron input portion of the meeting, went on to tell board members that the watchdog group recognizes the need for a new elementary south of town and said “there’s enough support” for that project. 

While Keller didn’t explicitly endorse the plant facilities levy, she seemed to be giving the district the group’s blessing. But she also encouraged the board to “get busy on fixing things at Idaho Falls High School and Skyline High School” and said that the district has “a decent amount in your coffers.”

The district’s most recent bond failure would have addressed overpopulated schools, including Sunnyside Elementary, which the district has reported to be at 145% capacity, and Idaho Falls High, which has been at 141% capacity. It would also have led to upgrades to Skyline High that revolved around a range of safety concerns and other improvements.

Further Reading:

Take a look back at EdNews’ coverage of one Idaho school district’s efforts to secure facilities funding via ballot measures — and what happens when those measures repeatedly fail. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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