Months after a 17-year, $34.5 million bond ask failed by the slimmest of margins, Bonneville trustees voted on Wednesday to put it back on the ballot in August.
The original measure, which would have funded a new elementary school and roof repairs and replacements, failed in May with 65.26% support — and about 66.67% was needed.
“I don’t think I have ever been more disappointed with a bond failure than I was with this one,” Trustee Chad Dance said at the time.
At their regular board meeting, trustees considered feedback from more than 1,100 district patrons (gathered via survey) about why some voted no, why some didn’t vote at all, and how the district should move forward.
After all, the neighboring Idaho Falls district saw its 10-year, $33 million plant facility levy pass in May with 70% support when only 55% was needed — and trustees wanted to know why there was such a vastly different outcome next door.
But Idaho Falls’ success didn’t come easily. The district first had to go through a record-breaking bond failure — preempted by organized community opposition — then pare back its ask significantly.
Second chances prospered in the last school election — Idaho Falls was one of six districts where voters approved bonds or levies months after they’d rejected them. But lawmakers have pushed back against “repeat” school elections, introducing legislation that would require districts to wait 11 months before putting bonds on the ballot again.
For now, districts like Bonneville are resorting to back-to-back elections to stave off more dire measures — like eliminating all-day kindergarten programs or implementing a hybrid learning schedule, both of which are on the table if the August bond fails.
Patron feedback: Why the bond failed and what to do next time
Before moving forward, trustees wanted to know why some voters were against the bond — so they asked.
Opponents’ top concerns: the increase to their taxes, a frustration with the state’s perceived underfunding of schools, and concerns that the district “mismanages funds and spends on unnecessary extras.”
For example, Bonneville Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said he often hears from patrons that the district’s new Thunder Ridge High School is “a very fancy school and overbuilt … that’s a prevailing theme.” The 250,000 square-foot, $63.5 million school opened in the fall of 2018.
Other reasons for voting “no” ranged from concerns about the new elementary school’s location to a feeling that new residents “should bear the burden of expansion.”
Patrons were supportive of another bond run
But when asked how to move forward, patrons’ most common response was to run another bond.
“But as we do that, we need to have efforts to increase awareness, educate the public and encourage voter participation,” Woolstenhulme told trustees.
After the May election, which saw only a 10% voter turnout, trustees were disheartened. Only about 3,000 people showed up to vote — out of 27,000 who were eligible to cast a ballot. They wondered if voters were unaware of the elections and where they were getting their information — so they asked.
Most (47%) said they were “somewhat informed,” while 29% said they were “very well informed” and 24% said they were not at all informed. And most (24%) got their information from newsletters sent by the district. Other top information sources were district texts, chats with friends and neighbors, and district social media channels.
District plans to increase communication efforts
Equipped with that information, the district plans to increase its advertising and communication efforts.
But, as one trustee pointed out, the election is on Aug. 29 and school starts the day before.
But Woolstenhulme said early football games and back to school events will give the district ample opportunity to spread the word. Plus, a fall school election might be ideal timing.
“People will be paying attention … that second day of school, school is going to be on people’s mind, where in May I think we’re all really, really busy,” he said.
What’s at stake: all-day kindergarten and an everyday, in-person schedule
Woolstenhulme said overcrowding at the district’s elementary schools make the new school a necessity. If the bond is not approved in August, the district may have to reduce or eliminate all-day kindergarten programs, suspend open enrollment at overcrowded schools, or bus new students to schools farther away form their neighborhoods. In fact, those measures are already in place at Iona Elementary, and would have to extend to other schools if the bond fails.
The district may also have to implement a hybrid learning schedule, so students essentially take turns getting in-person instruction in a school building.
“I hate these kinds of plans, but … we have to think realistically about what happens if we can’t get over that two-thirds threshold,” Woolstenhulme said.