Boise spends $11,400 on bond issue voter information

The Boise School District has spent $11,400 on mailers and fliers outlining its $172.5 million bond issue request.

The district says it ran the plan past its legal team, and says the taxpayer-funded mailer falls under the heading of informing patrons about the pending bond issue.

The mailers began showing up this week. They included a flier titled “HERE ARE THE FACTS … Questions and Answers about the Boise School District’s Bond Election on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.” The mailers also include two blank requests for absentee ballots, and an envelope addressed to the Ada County elections office.

The flier runs through the key points of the March 14 bond issue. The district plans use the $172.5 million to build six new elementary schools at existing school sites, add a school in the growing Harris Ranch development in East Boise and cover a variety of remodeling and capital projects across the district. The district also says the bond issue will not increase property tax rates.

The mailer doesn’t overtly urge voters to support the bond issue, but it contains a quote from Carrie Hastriter, a Boise parent and former teacher advocating the measure. “We will be able to give students access to safe, modern classrooms and schools that reflect best practices in education and technology — ensuring students graduate college- and career-ready.”

District spokesman Dan Hollar said the mailer follows the law, and standard practice.

“It was made clear during the 2006 bond, 2012 levy and this bond election that we are allowed under the law to present factual information to the public,” Hollar said in an email Thursday. “That includes the quote from the parent, which is completely accurate.”

The Boise district sent out mailers to 28,782 households. As a nonprofit entity, the district can send out materials at a reduced price — in this case, $2,878.20, or 10 cents a letter.

Printing, sorting and production cost $8,541.87. That money also covered the cost of printing an additional 18,000 mailers to distribute at community and school events, Hollar said.

The district has received no complaints about its mailer, Hollar said.

Still, voter information on school elections is a sensitive topic.

Dustin Hurst, a staffer with the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation, criticized the Boise district for allowing supporters to tout the March bond issue during school holiday programs.

But for years, critics have accused school districts of running stealth elections and trying to take advantage of low voter turnout. Those criticisms prompted a push to consolidate school elections to four dates per year.

Meanwhile, it is not uncommon for school districts to use their websites for voter information.

The Boise district website has a subsection on the March bond issue, under the heading, “BUILDING FOR STUDENT SUCCESS.” The West Ada School District has a web page dedicated to its 10-year, $160 million plant facilities levy. On its website, the Coeur d’Alene School District says its patrons have a “unique opportunity” to pass a bond issue and a supplemental levy without raising tax rates.

Coming this month: The stakes are high for the March 14 school elections, with big-ticket proposals across the state. Idaho Education News and Boise State Public Radio will team up for an in-depth look at elections in Boise, and beyond.