School trustees push for bond relief

Idaho school trustees threw their support behind two measures to offset districts’ financial concerns, while rejecting a third.

But first, before the Idaho School Boards Association’s business session could get under way Friday morning, a resolution opposing the tiered teacher licensure plan was pulled abruptly.

Nov. 14 ISBA
ISBA Vice President John Menter of the Troy School District debates policy resolutions Friday in Boise.

The resolutions that were approved Friday are considered formal policy of the ISBA for two years. The group will lobby on these issues at the Statehouse for the next two sessions.

One resolution has a familiar ring. By a 2,691 to 1,116 vote margin, trustees supported calling on the Legislature to reduce the supermajority threshold for school facility bonds.

For the past eight years the ISBA has pushed for the elimination of the supermajority threshold, without success. The previous resolution expired this year, so the idea was brought forward again Friday.

Mike Vuittonet, chairman of the West Ada School District, backed the idea. A $104 million bond issue failed in West Ada in August, despite receiving 63 percent backing.

“It is not majority wins on this this,” Vuittonet said. “The minority can kill a bond for needed school facilities, even when hazardous conditions exist and people need to pass a bond to repair their schools.”

In order to relax the supermajority threshold, two-thirds of the House and Senate would need to vote yes – and then a majority of voters would need to approve amending Idaho’s Constitution.

Support was not unanimous.

“I farm and in my view, this supermajority is only protection a property owner has in your district,” Rockland School District trustee James Robinson said.

ISBA members also passed a bond relief resolution, calling on the Legislature to amend the law to allow districts to impose a fee on new construction projects. West Ada trustees brought this proposal, saying the fees would allow for growth to help pay for some of the costs to expand or build new schools.

Under a 1 percent fee, West Ada officials estimated they could have collected about $16 million over the past six years and saved patrons another $7 million in interest on their proposed bond issue, saving $23 million off the $104 million price tag.

That resolution passed 2,473-1,304, over the objection of homebuilders who said fees would drive up the price of housing, to the detriment of families.

Trustees voted down a third resolution, aimed at allowing districts to ask their residents to approve a local option sales tax for school construction.

In other business Friday, Idaho Falls school board members pulled their resolution opposing the tiered licensure plan.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education unanimously approved several changes to the tiered licensure proposal – including removing all performance standards and accountability measures from the professional tier for teachers with more than three years of experience.

“I think (the State Board) should be commended,” Idaho Falls School Board Chairwoman Lisa Burtenshaw said. “Our resolution was addressed through the changes they made.”

More reading: Trustees want Proposition 1 wording to stay on the books. Check Kevin Richert’s blog for more from the ISBA convention.

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