Cassia schools to seek $56.7 million bond issue

Citing increasing enrollment — and a need to meet the demands of local employers — the Cassia County School District will seek a $56.7 million bond issue in March.

“We can’t afford to do nothing,” Superintendent James Shank said. “Jobs are being created, homes are being filled and schools have needs.”

It will mark Cassia County’s third bond issue since 2015. And while the numbers are complicated, district officials say the area’s economic growth should offset some of the bond issue’s price tag.

If the bond issue passes with the required two-thirds supermajority, much of the $56.7 million would go toward expansion projects. Among the items on the district’s to-do list:

  • Adding 14 classrooms at Burley High School and six classrooms at Burley Junior High School. About 900 students now attend the high school, but enrollment is projected to reach 1,200 within three years.
  • A new classroom wing at Declo Elementary School.
  • Four additional classrooms at Oakley High School.
  • A $3.75 million upgrade at the Cassia Regional Technical Center, including an addition to the automotive shop, a welding classroom and facilities for certified nursing assistant and emergency medical technician programs.

A 30-member citizens’ group spent more than a year studying the district’s needs, and the tech center was one point of discussion. Committee members eventually decided to expand the current center in Burley, as opposed to building a replacement.

Cassia County’s recent bond issue history has been mixed — and volatile.

Voters approved a $37 million bond issue in March 2015. But almost immediately, the district ran into trouble. The money wasn’t enough to cover the projects that the district promised to voters. District officials said their architect had underestimated building costs.

In March 2016, the district sought a $14.9 million followup bond issue to cover the shortfall. Voters said no.

As a result, four projects from the 2015 bond issue fell by the wayside. These projects are on the list for the upcoming bond issue. But district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield downplays the connection between the new bond issue and its predecessor.

“The current proposal is not meant to be a finisher of that (2015) bond,” she said Wednesday. “It is meant to address the needs of growth in our county.”

The annual cost of the bond issue comes to $201 on $100,000 of taxable property.

But rising property values should offset some costs, since the bond issue would be spread across a growing tax base.

The district’s property tax base grew by close to $250 million in 2018-19, according to State Department of Education reports. And the district is anticipating another $230 million in new growth to come online in the next year, Critchfield said.

 

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