Nov. 8: A $266.1 million school election day

Just three Idaho school districts will ask their patrons to OK requests for local funds Nov. 8, but one of the requests is the biggest school bond issue Idaho has ever seen.

Voters in the Idaho Falls, Bonneville and Fremont County school districts will decide on a combined total of $266.1 million in local funds to cover various expenses and projects, including Idaho Falls’ plan to build a new high school and two new elementary schools.

Bonneville’s share of the requests includes a pair of measures totaling just $13.1 million:

  • A two-year, $11.6 million supplemental levy for a range of expenses, including classroom supplies, a school resource officer, coaches and extracurricular activities advisors and to support other positions.
  • A $1.5 million request for construction cost savings and interest earnings from the proceeds of a previously approved $30.5 million in bonds for updates and “repairing, renovating, remodeling, equipping and furnishing other existing schools and facilities.”

Fremont County is asking for a two-year, $3 million supplemental levy to cover textbooks, technology, musical instruments, building security needs and to “attract and retain highly qualified staff.”

The rest of the $266.1 million — Idaho Falls’ record-breaking $250 million bond issue — would fund construction of a new Idaho Falls High school, two new elementary schools and extensive upgrades to Skyline High School. It’s the largest school bond issue to ever make it onto an Idaho ballot.

Idaho’s seen much bigger school election days. March 2017’s election featured a mammoth $715 million in bonds and levies. August 2022’s total: $261.4 million.

But August’s lineup included a dozen districts asking for bonds and levies, which, if approved, flow to schools through local property taxes. Idaho Falls’ ask nearly meets August’s total in one swipe.

The bond issue would address overpopulated schools, including Sunnyside Elementary, which the district says is at 145% capacity, and Idaho Falls High, which it says is at 141% capacity. Upgrades to Skyline High revolve around a range of safety concerns and other improvements.

The measure marks the third time since 2017 that Idaho Falls has asked local property owners to bankroll major facilities upgrades. Both prior attempts failed.

Rising construction costs and the need for more space at the district’s elementary schools has more than doubled the price tag for proposed updates since 2017. And the $250 million now on tap for the election accompanies rising interest rates, fueling concerns from local taxpayers who say they’re already strapped by inflation.

The district puts the measure’s estimated tax burden at $100 per $100,000 of taxable value, but a local opposition group, which fought both prior bond issues, has criticized the request, referenced rising interest rates and blasted the district’s consideration of revised class schedules if the measure fails.

Idaho Falls’ bond issue and Bonneville’s $1.5 million request both need a supermajority of votes to pass, while both supplemental levies require a simple majority.

Polls opening from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Click here to find your polling place.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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