Debate swirls around Teton’s $30 million bond issue

DRIGGS — Patrons in the Teton Valley are mixed over the local school district’s $30 million bond issue to upgrade its four aging and cramped elementary schools.

Supporters of the measure, which includes $23 million to rebuild Victor and Driggs elementary schools, say a laundry list of fixes are long overdue. They cite several shortcomings at the existing schools:

  • Lack of storage.
  • Aging infrastructure.
  • Cramped campuses.
  • Unsafe dropoff zones.
  • Crowded facilities.

“The lack of space here is spreading our teachers thin,” said trustee Chris Isaacson. “Teachers at Victor (Elementary) even have to share a bathroom with students.”

Isaacson walked through a labyrinth of what used to be storage space and a locker room under the gym bleachers at Victor Elementary, which served as the town’s high school during World War II. The space serves as a remedial reading room, storage and a one-person bathroom crammed with learning materials.

The school stage, meanwhile, functions as a lunchroom and special education classroom, with a row of listing six-foot office partitions dividing the two.

“These teachers have to work around the school’s PE schedule to hold classes in here,” Isaacson said. “It’s hard to teach with all the noise going on in the gym.”

Isaacson and other supporters say upgrades in the district’s three other elementary schools, all 59 to 76 years old, will bring a gamut of benefits, from additional space and better technology to improved student achievement.

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But everyone’s not on board.

Local business owner and lifelong resident Travis Moulton said the district could save about $10 million by replacing Victor and Driggs elementary schools with one large school between the two towns. Updating the district’s current fourth- and fifth-grade elementary school, located in Driggs, to include all elementary-age students within its boundaries would also free up space, Moulton said.

Trustees say months of feedback via surveys and meetings shaped the current proposal, and one particular messages was clear: the district’s fourth- and fifth-grade elementary school, Upper Rendezvous, helps kids transition from elementary school to middle school.

Moulton questions the logic.

“Does it improve our test scores?” he said. “No one has answered that question for me.”

Despite Moulton’s arguments, a local support group has rallied around the measure, plastering “Vote Yes” leaflets throughout the valley and loading up both a website and Facebook page with promotional posts and videos.

Still, Teton has a shaky history of passing bond issues, which require a two-thirds supermajority to pass. The burden of scrounging for local funds falls heaviest on rural districts such as Teton, where farmers ride the ups and downs of markets and harvests.

Though the district did pass a $12 million bond issue for a new middle school in 2006, a $19 million elementary school measure fell 10 points shy of a supermajority in 2014.

Supporters hope historically low interest rates and the quasi-tourist area’s booming market value will up their chances this time around.

Projections from asset management firm Piper Jaffray peg a likely annual tax hike of about $60 per $100,000 of taxable value if the measure passes. The district is also floating a $7.2 million contingency bond issue to upgrade Teton Middle School and Teton High School, including a new auxiliary gym.

Patrons will find the measures on the ballot Nov. 7.

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