New group opposes measure for East Idaho community college

IDAHO FALLS — A newly-formed political action committee is opposing an upcoming measure to turn Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college.

“We don’t need this,” said Larry Lyon, a Bonneville County resident and member of the newly formed East Idaho-based conservative group “Idahope.” “There are many local and online educational offerings and dozens of associates degrees offered within 50 miles of Idaho Falls.”

Lyon and other group members recently launched a website and YouTube video outlining their beef with the May 16 measure, including “understated projected costs” being pitched to Bonneville taxpayers. 

Proponents are already pushing back, saying Idahope’s criticism revolves around an unfair, apples-to-oranges tax subsidy comparison of the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.

“Those who live in Twin Falls County, where CSI is located, pay $98.21 per year per $100,000 in taxable value,” Idahope’s website reads — or seven times the $14 per year per $100,000 of taxable property estimated to transform EITC into a community college.

“We feel the $14 is just a teaser rate,” Lyon said.

Bank of Idaho CEO Park Price supports a community college in East Idaho and spearheaded the cost analysis of the proposed transformation last year. He says patrons in Twin Falls naturally pay more because their plans for a community college involved from-scratch construction of a campus.

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“We are very, very fortunate to already have a campus (EITC) in place to take on the extra students a community college would bring,” Price said. “We’ve done a very thorough look at the cost.”

EITC enrollment hovers around 700. Price and other proponents say the college’s facilities can already accommodate up to 4,000 that could follow the changeover to a community college.

Still, Idahope members criticized the longevity of tax hikes tied to a community college. Unlike a K-12 bond issue, they say, a taxing district for a community college would “go on essentially forever.”

EITC president Rick Aman, another supporter of the transformation, acknowledged the longevity of taxes tied to the measure, but said the rate “cannot go up beyond the amount established by the (school’s future) trustees, without another vote of the citizens.”

Here’s a rundown of the Idahope’s other issues with the measure:

  • EITC doesn’t need to be transformed into a community college in order to offer a greater variety of courses to students.
  • EITC is landlocked by some of the “most expensive real estate in the region,” making it “a bad location that would cost too much to expand.”
  • Expansion via a community college runs contrary to online learning — the “future of education.”
  • Residents of Bonneville County already rejected a measure to turn EITC into a community college in 1991.

Aman offered a point-by-point counterargument of his own. Click here to view his responses, typed out in red.

The push for a community college has been backed by prominent Idaho Falls community members, including Rep. Wendy Horman, Sen. Dean Mortimer, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and Idaho Falls School District superintendent George Boland, who said a community college in East Idaho would pave the way for students to receive an associate’s degree while still in high school, at a “fraction of what it would cost them in college.”

The measure, which Bonneville voters will find on May 16 ballots, requires a supermajority of votes, 66.6 percent, to pass.