New ordinance would challenge subdivisions that cause school overcrowding

The Middleton City Council is considering an unprecedented ordinance that would restrict developers from building subdivisions that would overcrowd schools.

“Kids have a constitutional right to education in this state,” said Dave Murray, a Middleton councilman who sponsored the ordinance.

Developers must obtain a signed statement from any school district verifying that a proposed subdivision will not contribute to any public school that will be serving the subdivision to exceed 110% capacity, the ordinance reads.

“We are saying that if we are at capacity, you can’t build,” Murray said. “To our knowledge, this is the first of its kind in the entire state.”

Middleton’s Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on March 25 and the city council expects to vote on the issue at its April 17 meeting. Middleton’s city attorney wrote the ordinance and it was reviewed by two outside attorneys.

And Murray is confident that the code is constitutionally legal in Idaho and federally.

“We wanted to make sure we did it right, because if it catches on it will cost developers money,” Murray said. “People are finally starting to pay attention. If we do this, and we make people aware, they will put pressure on their city and county to follow suit.”

Two of the district’s three elementary schools, according to Murray, are well above capacity: Mill Creek elementary is at 138% capacity and Heights elementary is at 120%.

“Portable classrooms are not the answer,” Murray said.

Middleton has already approved enough new home construction to build for another eight to 12 years “without approving another single home,” he said. “A lot of inventory has been approved. We can’t stop those.”

Moving forward, the idea is to ensure schools can educate students in buildings and classrooms that are not overcrowded.

“My goal is to change the narrative — schools are infrastructure and must be treated as such,” he said. 

Will this proposed code limit personal property rights?

“I tell people that every right has a limit. If personal property rights trample on students’ rights, then your rights will be limited because now you are affecting someone else’s rights,” Murray said. “When it comes to protecting infrastructure, you can mitigate against harm.”

Murray has served just over two years on the council. He’s been working on the new city code since he took office. He worked closely with both Middleton’s and Vallivue’s superintendents.

However, he was unable to convince Canyon County or the city of Star to partner with Middleton.

“They are not onboard. Even though we are stepping forward alone, we are pretty confident that we will not remain alone,” he said. “I have reached out to Moscow, Kuna, Caldwell, Pocatello — all over the state.”

The issue is personal for Murray because he comes from a family of teachers.

“I don’t care about partisan politics. My focus is on addressing problems in my community. I can’t fix what happens in D.C. or Boise, but I can fix real problems that people face every single day.”

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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