IDAHO FALLS — Bonneville School District trustees recently approved plans to float a $58.5 million bond issue for a new middle school this August.
But if a newly sworn-in trustee has his way during a board meeting Wednesday night, that measure could be scrapped and replaced with a plan to build a $29 million elementary school.
“I can’t speak for the other board members at this point, but I am going to try and get the recent decision recalled,” Scott Lynch told Idaho Education News Monday. “That is my purpose.”
Lynch, who won former school board chairmen Jeff Bird’s Zone 5 seat in the May election, wasn’t sworn in when Bird and two of Bonneville’s other four trustees voted to put the $58.5 million middle school bond issue on the August ballot, instead of a $29 million proposal for a new elementary school.
Lynch says the hotly debated decision was a mistake, one he hopes to correct by throwing his vote behind a bond measure for a new elementary school.
But Lynch’s pledge to change the board’s decision faces opposition. At least two trustees say they will stick by their original vote. And the two other trustees are reluctant to say publicly whether or not they will back Lynch if he seeks a revote.
“This could all get very interesting,” said Bonneville superintendent Chuck Shackett, who supports the elementary school option. “I guess we’ll just have to see what happens during the board meeting.”
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The debate: A middle school or an elementary school?
A months-long debate over the best way to handle Bonneville’s dizzying population growth has revolved around building a new elementary school to absorb increased K-6 enrollment or building a new middle school to accommodate sixth-graders and alleviate elementary school overcrowding.
Lynch publicly supported the elementary school option prior to being sworn-in July 1, but a number of Bonneville patrons and educators have voiced concerns over both proposals, with some worried that moving sixth-graders into the district’s middle schools could harm the kids’ learning and development. Others point out that trustees have long emphasized the need for a new middle school, and could lose credibility with patrons if they opt to build an elementary school.
Lynch’s plan to backtrack the district’s current path has also rekindled debate over which option is ultimately more cost-effective for patrons.
Both Lynch and Shackett believe the district’s current middle schools are well-equipped to handle growth for at least another five years, rendering the need for a new elementary school “more pressing.” Lynch and Shackett also point to the elementary option’s immediate savings of roughly $33 million — or about $20,000 per seat compared to the middle school’s projected $58 million price tag.
But Bird, who chose not to seek reelection in May, believes an elementary school now will cost patrons more in the near future.
“The district will eventually need to build a new middle school anyway,” Bird said, adding that a new middle school would also free up space in elementary schools.
Shackett acknowledges costs associated with eventually building a new middle school within the next five to six years. But he also emphasized that a new elementary school now would save students from having to relocate to middle schools.
“An elementary school would allow us to keep our current K-6 configuration,” Shackett said. “And that’s something a lot of people want.”
What to watch for Wednesday night
Lynch’s recent swearing-in enables him to seek to rescind the board’s previous decision, reintroduce the elementary school option and provide potentially pivotal swing votes to solidify an actual change.
Lynch needs two other votes.
The good news, for Lynch: Two current trustees, Chad Dance of Zone 3 and Paul Jenkins of Zone 4, already supported the elementary school option two weeks ago. The not-so good news: Dance and Jenkins won’t say how they would vote Wednesday.
“It’s premature for me to say how I will vote,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins and Dance acknowledge that they remain open to options.
Lynch faces two other potential roadblocks.
First, trustees Greg Calder of Zone 1 and Amy Landers of Zone 2 have already vowed to vote against any motion to rescind the previous decision.
Second, a bond measure for a new elementary school would now have to wait for a November vote, since Bonneville’s deadline to file for the August election has passed.
Which might make the elementary option less appealing for trustees in a district facing an immediate need to curb overcrowding.
Still, the board’s current agenda for Wednesday night has designated time for “discussion and motion regarding proposed rescission of bond resolution adopted June 28, 2017.”
What will either measure take to pass?
Idaho requires a two-thirds supermajority for any bond issues to pass — a hurdle Bonneville has struggled to clear in the past.
Bonneville’s original bond issue for a new high school failed three times before passing in November 2015.
The district originally asked voters to approve a $95 million bond issue to build a new high school and a new middle school. That proposal failed to receive a majority of votes, let alone the supermajority needed to pass.
The district whittled the amount before eventually settling at $63.5 million — and ultimately dumping its original request for a new middle school.
Estimates for both of the district’s current bond issue options include costs for a new special education “hub” and several structural upgrades to two elementary schools.
Stay with Idaho Education News for further developments on this story.